Roe / Bickley / Kramer at the Blue LLama Jazz Club

February 17, 2022

My visit to the Blue LLama was an unusual experience: I became re-acquainted with a trio of musicians I had not heard live since the pandemic struck two years ago — and it took place during the biggest snowstorm of the season (so far). I am glad I braved the elements; in fact, when a storm hits, people seem more willing to share their experiences more freely. I somehow managed to have several lively conversations in the snowy streets of Ann Arbor in the half hour I lumbered home after the concert through the freshly fallen snow and ice. One guy had set up his tripod in the middle of Liberty Street near the Michigan Theater to capture the unique atmosphere.

Once I entered the cozy comforts of the Blue LLama, I forgot about the snowstorm brewing outside and thoroughly enjoyed the last two sets from the trio of pianist Rick Roe, bassist Rob Bickley, and drummer Jesse Kramer. The trio played several selections from their most recent CDs, Dark Virtue and this year’s Lucid Dream, along with some standards. You can easily hear that they have been together for a while (actually since 2017), yet they still inspire each other.

Some of the highlights of the evening were Monk’s theme song “Epistrophy,” which reminded me that Roe is a Monk afficionado. He delights in the witty version of bebop invented by Monk and brings out the harmonic and melodic subtleties without forgetting the rhythmic excitement of the music. The piece opened with a lengthy piano intro and after a bass solo ended with an inventive drum solo by Kramer. Another bebop classic for the evening was Charlie Parker’s “Dewey Square.” I was also delighted by a Paul Chambers piece (“Ease it”) with subtle brush work by Kramer and appropriately a wonderful bass solo by Bickley. “Body and Soul” was another high point of the evening with Bickley taking on the bridge of this favorite jazz standard after Roe’s subtle statement of the theme. A less common standard is “Someone is Rocking My Dreamboat” from 1941. It was indeed a rocker even at a medium tempo which had Kramer dancing around on his traps and cymbals.

If you get the chance go see this trio, they are at their zenith these days!