LEE SHAW TRIO, BEN ALLISON BAND
Massry Center for the Arts
November 15, 2012
by Jeff Waggoner
Front page, above the fold in the Nov. 15 Albany Times Union there appeared an homage to the Capital District’s dean of jazz musicians. It said our beloved pianist Lee Shaw is ailing.
So, anyone who showed up at a College of St. Rose concert that night expecting a swan song got fooled. Even at 86, it’s still too soon to give Shaw the title “dean emeriti.”
The former student of Oscar Peterson played as great as ever at a double-decker concert that featured her trio, with Rich Syracuse on bass and Jeff “Siege” Siegel on drums. They were followed by a quartet lead by the brilliant double bassist Ben Allison. His group played what concert organizer, Salvatore Prizio, director of programming at the Massry Center, described as “progressive jazz.” In addition to Allison, it included Steve Cardenas on guitar, Brandon Seabrook, banjo and guitar and Rudy Royston on drums.
Pairing a straight ahead piano trio with Allison is the kind of imaginative programming that the region is beginning to expect out of Prizio and the Massry Center. At almost every concert, he manages to figure out a way to get listeners of all ages in the seats.
It was apparent from the reaction from the audience, though, that many in attendance came to hear Lee Shaw. Shaw, whose bag of jazz standards is profoundly deep, decided to treat the audience with primarily originals produced by all trio members. Each was a gem.
The two non-originals were Billy Taylor’s “Easy Walker,” and she reached back to 1932 to find Victor Young’s “Street of Dreams.” It was fitting that she ended her set with a Victor Young piece. Composer Young was nominated for an Oscar 22 times for film work, and the theme of Allison’s set was film music.
Nice segue, Sal.
Allison got things rolling with his composition “Roll Credits,” offering, by way of explanation, that he watches a lot of movies.
The bassist brought along to Albany the sensation Brandon Seabrook, who has been known to refer to himself as a “metal (as in the style of music) banjo” player. He also plays a guitar with lots of knobs and gizmos that produce feedback and sustain. In other words, it wasn’t in the style of say, someone like Joe Pass or Kenny Burrell. That kind of guitar work was left to Allison’s longtime sideman, Steve Cardenas, who was as parsimonious with his sound as Seabrook effusive.
As Seabrook told the Wall Street Journal recently, 'Oh!' I just love that 1980s-style shredding, with lots of notes …. repetitive and really fast. Like Steve Vai and Slayer." The playing was like a flame thrower under his band mates, but their notes were welcome. Hearing Cardenas follow Seabrook was like taking a long draft of buttermilk after biting into a habanero.
Meantime, Royston kept meticulous time and squeezes in a gem of a solo, which was both extremely tasteful and intense. Very appropriate, as it reflect the styles of both guitarists.
Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Down Beat, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times.