LEE SHAW QUINTET
August 9, 2014
by Tom Pierce
Change can sometimes be beneficial and exciting, even for a stellar organization like the Lee Shaw Trio, that has been for many years, the Capital District’s “Gold Standard” for small group jazz. Two significant elements have been altered in the past few months for this band of legendary Lee Shaw on piano and stalwart partners, Rich Syracuse on bass and Jeff Siegel on drums.
74 State, a regular venue for the trio, for over six years indicated that, due to some business issues, they would be eliminating music. Fortunately, they were quickly contacted by Taste (open since early 2011) that they were eager to include such a high quality, renowned jazz group in their schedule. My initial visit picked up very positive vibes, from the eager to please, friendly staff, the expansively attractive patio layout, and interesting, quality food & drink offerings.
I had the advantage going in of being familiar for many years with the tightly integrated, swinging rhythm section core, solidly anchored and locked in by the resonantly full-bodied cushion of Rich Syracuse and inventively accented use of the full drum set by Jeff Siegel; as well as the exceptionally expressive work of trumpeter Chris Pasin with other bands. But I must say that the performance of this relatively new band, including the bold, but complementary guitar lines of Matt Finck definitely exceeded expectations. To start with, the well-selected set-list, with its diverse origins, and subtle, but meaningful shifts, from song to song in tempo, key and mood captured and held my attention – the ultimate test of any set of material and its execution.
Those songs from the Great American Songbook included “Bye, Bye Blackbird”, “I Didn’t Know What Time It was”, “The Way You Look Tonight”, “Put on a Happy Face”, “You and the Night and the Music” and “You Stepped Out of a Dream. Those tunes which had their origin and/or greatest popularity in the world of jazz included “Like Grains of Sand (Sir Roland Hanna), “Blues Eleven” (John Medeski/Lee Shaw), “Holiday (Lee Shaw) , “The Dolphin” (Luiz Bonfa), “I Thought About You” (Jimmy Van Heusen/Johnny Mercer), “In a Sentimental Mood’ (Duke Ellington); “Cantaloupe Island’ (Herbie Hancock) and “Back at the Chicken Shack” (Jimmy Smith).
From the opening tune, I was quickly reminded of Lee Shaw’s previous positive blending with extraordinary guitarists, like the late Jack Fragomeni and Mike DeMicco, among others, Here again, there was a smooth and invigorating blending between these two chording instruments. Matt Finck’s flowing, melodic guitar consistently had that undercurrent of a strong, propulsive blues feel, without any electronic distortion or pointlessly flashy, repetitive runs or effects that would detract from his role. In a brief discussion between sets, Lee Shaw remarked that everyone in the band “has such big ears”.
Chris Pasin’s trumpet and flugelhorn, with his stimulating and enchanting warm/cool mixture of intensity and restraint evoked memories of the best of giants like Clifford Brown, Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard. It provided an ideal upper layer of highly musical depth & beauty, in both his melody statements and solos. On the other end, the band was solidly grounded in the captivating groove set by the bass and drums, complemented by both the guitar & Lee’s expansively full keyboard artistry and energetic drive,
And lastly, special kudos are in order for young Nick Hetko from Cambridge NY, a former student of Lee’s who sat in for her on the last 3 tunes of the night. His swing, improvising and mature taste fully demonstrated why he’s received several awards and scholarships in national & state competitions for his piano and compositions.
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.