The Seasons Fall Festival wrapped up over the weekend in Yakima, Washington, with concerts that featured two Bill Mays trios. James Moody also starred, performing at eighty-two with the wisdom of age and the energy of a teenager.
Friday night, it was Mays, piano; Marvin Stamm, trumpet and fluegelhorn; and Alisa Horn, cello – the Inventions Trio. Their recently released CD is superb, but their collaboration has taken on profundity and polish since they made the recording two years ago. Their reworkings of Rachmaninoff, Borodin and other classical composers, their treatment of standards and new pieces by Mays and Stamm, had the audience enthralled. Mays’ six-part suite inspired by the Delaware River’s run from the mountains to the sea was a journey encompassing grandeur, nostalgia, folksy humor including a hoedown, and avant garde audacity. It also incorporated spoken segments of regional reminiscing that disclosed the musicians’ unsuspected talents as vocal actors.
For years, Stamm and Mays have performed as a duo exploring the possibilities in classical themes. The addition of Horn, the young cellist, has resulted in a group capable of a remarkable store of textures. She has extensive classical training and rich technique, but is relatively new to jazz. Under Mays’ and Stamm’s tutelage, she has learned to swing when she’s bowing, and to play pizzicato a la Oscar Pettiford, Percy Heath and Ron Carter. It was a joy to witness the passion she brought to the performance. Mays and Stamm are jazz and studio veterans whose discipline and versatility make possible this group’s demanding chamber music. They achieve complexity without sacrificing swing or zeal. They are a pleasure to watch as well as to hear. Few groups have as much fun making music as this trio.
Wilson, Mays, Wind
One that does is Mays’ trio with bassist Martin Wind and drummer Matt Wilson. Two years ago they inaugurated the former Christian Science church as a performance hall. Their appearance at The Seasons has become an autumn event, and they were as astonishing as ever. One of the great piano trios of the day more than lived up to their reputation. With Wilson aboard, there is always bound to be a surprise. In 2005, it was his action-theater piece having to do with free range chickens and the chant, “Set them free.” Last year, he crafted a musical setting for Carl Sandburg’s poem Choose and conscripted the audience as a Greek chorus. This time around, Wilson debuted a composition inspired by a swimming party the night before in his hotel pool, possibly involving minimal clothing. He called it “Yakimaquatics” and introduced it with a drum solo that incorporated the breast stroke, the backstroke, the butterfly and the crawl, all executed with rhythmic exactitude and leading into a melody with a harmonic pattern possibly influenced by Pat Metheny. Fun and games out of the way, Mays, Wind and Wilson dug in. It was a fine first half.
Following intermission, the Mays trio became the rhythm section of the James Moody quartet. Moody had his famous flute along, but it never left the case. He stayed on tenor saxophone through the set, except when he was singing or telling uproarious stories. In a pre-performance discussion, he spoke about the harmonic education he received early in his career from Dizzy Gillespie and Tom McIntosh. In concert, he demonstrated the extent to which that harmonic sense has progressed in the past sixty years or so. Applying chord extensions on top of chord extensions, he danced through “Woody’n You” and “Giant Steps” with dazzling mastery. If the audience had Coleman Hawkins in mind when Moody began “Body and Soul,” his ingenious creation of new melodies and his audacious expansion of the chord pattern brought them thoroughly up to date.
Mays, Wind and Wilson were in swinging lock step with Moody throughout the concert, but their participation went far beyond accompaniment. They gave the old master nudges that inspired him to explore beyond what in more routine settings is often a polished bag of phrases and devices. Clearly, he was pleased with the collaboration. When Mays was soloing, Moody stationed himself in the curve of the piano, listening intently. When Wind was bowing one of his virtuosic arco solos, Moody edged nearer. When Wilson soloed, Moody stood beaming at him.
Of course, he did “Moody’s Mood For Love,” singing his own famous solo and, in split throat-tones, the piano solo from the original 1949 recording. Earlier, he said that audiences never let him get away without doing it, so he builds it into his every appearance. The Moody concert was a rousing and entertaining conclusion to more than a week of stimulating music.
I once wrote (in Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers):
Like every art form, jazz has a fund of devices unique to it and universally employed by those who play it. Among the resources of the jazz tradition available to the player creating an improvised performance are rhythmic patterns, harmonic structures, material quoted from a variety of sources, and “head arrangements” evolved over time without being written. Mutual access to this community body of knowledge makes possible successful and enjoyable collaboration among jazzmen of different generations and stylistic persuasions who have never before played together.
The Moody concert was a demonstration of that truth. I overheard the rehearsal. It went more or less like this:
Moody: Do you know “Woody’n You?”
Mays: Yeah, we know that.
Moody: “Giant Steps?”
Moody: How about “Invitation?”
Moody: Okay. We’ll be cool.
And they were.