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Index of SEMJA reviews




Recent Recordings by Area Artists


Ron Brooks needs no introduction to the readers of these pages. As a bass player, proprietor of the Bird of Paradise jazz club, community leader, and president of SEMJA, he has been serving the jazz community since time immemorial. For almost forty years he has led his own trio, performing regularly midweek at his club, but also providing backing for many distinguished traveling soloists. We can all recall memorable nights, when the Brooks trio meshed perfectly with Emily Remler, Frank Morgan and many others, and I am certainly not the only one who hopes that one day some tapes of these evenings may surface. Although he has made many fine recordings over the years with well-known musicians such as Bob James, Sonny Stitt, and even Eric Dolphy, he has been reticent to offer records his own groups.

Apparently the time felt right, for he has finally offered us a full-length compact disk, Three B in Flight (Robro Records). Joining him on this compact disk are pianist Tad Weed and drummer Pete Siers. Siers has been working with Brooks for years, but Weed is a relatively recent member of the trio, following in the footsteps of many distinguished pianists, including Bob James, Rick Roe and Eddie Russ. The repertoire is made up of familiar standards, jazz classics such as Ellington's "Just Squeeze Me" and Coltrane's "Moment's Notice," as well as choice compositions by pianists Cedar Walton and Bud Powell. As may be expected from a group that works together all the time, the three play together with great empathy and mutual understanding. Siers is undoubtedly one of the most versatile drummers on the scene today: he is equally skilled at propelling a roaring big band in flight as he is at quietly supporting the most delicate trio ballad. His playing on Powell's "I'll Keep Loving You" is a marvel of imagination and restraint; the three instruments mesh together in such a way that all their traditional roles are forgotten.

Brooks is in fine form, demonstrating his majestic sense of propulsion on the faster tunes, and his delicacy and finesse on slower tempos. The leader may be on bass, but this is a piano trio and the keyboard man is necessarily the key player. Weed, who may be less familiar to many, is a versatile, swinging player who fits in perfectly with this group. A two fisted player, he likes to accentuate chords with his left hand while spinning complex lines with his right. These complex jabs provide a perfect opportunity for the drummer, who often dances around Weed's rhythms and Brooks' steady bass. As a result all three provide powerful and yet flexible propulsion that drives the music forward with great swing. They also like to vary the pulse and intensity of the music, so that the textures and moods shift throughout the recital. The various trios that Brooks has led over the years have all had their strong points; this particular version is perhaps the most rhythmically complex of them all. This CD shows how creative musicians can keep a traditional form such as the piano trio alive, finding new inspiration in a standard repertoire.

There are many fine moments on this recording. The choice of material, the pacing, as well as the uniformly inspired level of playing result in a lovely trio album; one can only hope that listeners will be prompted to hear them in person during their regular nights at the Bird of Paradise.

Pete Siers seems to be everywhere these days, and appears on a very different recording, Ed Sarath's Timescape. This compact disk is the debut recording by Sarath's group Timescape, which includes a string section (Esther Noh and Gabe Bolkovsky, violin, Katri Ervamaa, cello), Andrew Bishop on tenor, soprano sax and clarinet, Tim Flood on bass, Michael Gould on percussion, the alternating pianos of Matt Buchman, Sarah Weaver's trombone on one piece, as well as the guest vibraphonist Karl Berger (who also plays piano on two cuts). Sarath wrote all the compositions and performs on flugelhorn.

Perhaps the most striking element of this recording is the amazing variety of moods and textures that Sarath coaxes out of this group. The opening "Turkish Tihai" propels with an unrelenting driving rhythm, and is immediately followed a serene meditative "Quietmind." The next composition, "Afterthought," retains the same mood, but adds some unsettling prodding elements to the mix. This is taken up with a vengeance in "Monkishness," which offers a novel, stabbing take on Monk's style, without overly obvious citation or imitation. Buchman and Bishop offer some fascinating abstract playing as the various voices rise out of the ensemble only to blend in once again. The dense textures do not prepare us for a sparse swinging vibes solo by Berger on "Space Race," but just as our feet are tapping, the moods shifts abruptly, and we hear Bishop's out of tempo oriental sounding soprano, which soon gives way to Ervamaa's driving cello.

All of the musicians acquit themselves well playing this very demanding material; as good as the solos are this is essentially ensemble music. I consider it a success that it is often difficult to distinguish written from improvised passages. This is music beyond category; jazz meets Hindustani rhythms, classical and European folk forms, and modernist extended techniques in a richly tasting goulash.

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Southeastern Michigan
Jazz Association


is published monthly. 
It is edited by Lars Björn and Piotr Michalowski
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