1. Thelonious Lee
2. Because of You
3. Three For Lee
4. Harmonious Lee
5. Ivory Romance
Adam Siegel (alto sax)
Nick Hetko (piano)
John Menegon (bass)
Joe Barna (drums)
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JOE BARNA & SKETCHES OF INFLUENCE Suite Lee
by Tom Pierce
Sunday night Jan 11, 2016 at the Sanctuary For Independent Media in Troy provided the time and place for an exciting and significant recording, honoring the special career of and lasting inspiration in the Capital District of Lee Shaw, who passed on Oct 25, 2015 at 89.
Bandleader, composer, drummer Joe Barna made a number of wisely appropriate musical decisions in setting up this tribute to Ms Shaw who was a much-appreciated, long-time effective mentor to him and many other serious musicians. One of these decisions was using a quartet composed equally of savvy veteran players (himself & highly regarded bassist John Menegon) and outstanding, energetic younger players (impressive pianist Nick Hetko a long-time brilliant student of Ms Shaw and the talented, ebullient, alto saxophonist, Adam Siegel, who is highly in demand).
Barna also knew it was BEST to pay tribute to a superior JAZZ musician by not merely EMULATING Lee’s style and approach, but rather having his Sketches of Influence band freely express their gratitude and inspiration gained from her in their OWN personal, spirited approach. This still evoked warm memories of her, by their displaying some of the same desirable qualities we loved in her playing: passion, pulsation, precision and polish – making it adventurously exciting on their own terms, while still pleasantly accessible, as she invariably was.
The Suite of six songs on the CD consisted of 5 interestingly varied numbers he wrote in the 6 weeks since her death, plus one (the enticing “Ivory Romance”) he had composed six years ago, after sessions with her. Nick Hetko’s delicately moving extended intro on this particular tune especially reminded this listener of her firm, but sensitive touch, as did Adam Siegel’s strong, but tender Alto statement. Siegel’s tone for this listener effectively projects the uniquely attractive tonal qualities of both the alto and soprano saxophones.
The band greatly benefited, right from the opening track, (the easy-going, slow to medium tempo, but vibrant “Thelonious Lee”) from the consistently rich, buoyant bass foundation of John Menegon, which was no surprise given his stellar career supporting a wide range of top notch musicians. His comping and solos were captured extremely well by some excellent sound engineering by Troy Puhl and mixing/mastering by Jason Bourdeau. The resulting sound is especially laudable given it being recorded live at the venue, rather than in a studio.
I found the slightly slower paced, but still intensely insistent “Because of You” very appealing due to both the passionate vibe of the melody and the moving arrangement that had the entire band so well-integrated, in addition to Siegel’s and Hetko’s strong solos. When queried as to the origin and message of this composition, Barna confirmed it was NOT related to any of the earlier other different popular songs with this same title. In an interview he indicated: “It refers to how she brought people together in this community particularly to come celebrate music together that might otherwise not have known one another”. He also confirmed my assumption regarding the title of the sprightly engaging “’Three for Lee”, when he said: “(It) refers to a Waltz Tempo or 3/4 Feel that Lee often enjoyed playing”.
“Swift Lee” is a surging swinger, with a captivating, exotic feel from Barna’s resounding use of mallets. Nick Hetko’s impressive keyboard chops and imagination here most reminded me here of peerless, legendary attack of the great Oscar Peterson, a special idol and friend of Lee Shaw. This tune, also featuring Adam Siegel’s powerful solo in the soprano register, bolstered dynamically by the hard-driving rhythm section, was this observer’s favorite uptempo track on the CD.
Given the particular origin and focus of this recording, I made a point to ask Joe Barna, if there was something he’d most want to share, to which he replied: “I hope that this recording will lead others to discovering Lee Shaw more intimately. That people might take the time to search her music and life history out a bit more. The recording is meant as a thank you to her from myself for all she had taught me and for all she did for jazz awareness while on this planet. She helped me find my way as she did for so many others. I believe she is worthy of both praise and acknowledgement”.
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 50 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland since 2001, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz in a variety of ways.