A TRIBUTE TO LEE SHAW
(feat. Lee Shaw Trio, Brian Patneaude Trio, Michael Benedict Jazz Vibes, and Dave Solazzo Duo)
Cohoes Music Hall
March 18, 2009
by J Hunter
Notes from A Tribute to Lee Shaw which (if I had my way) should have been held at the Kennedy Center, even though Cohoes Music Hall was more than excellent:
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: Ive been watching Lee Shaw on YouTube all week! former Syracuse resident Dave Solazzo, admitting hed never heard Shaw play before this evening.
A PLETHORA OF RICHES Given that this show started at 7, the guest of honor didnt make it onstage until 9:40, and three groups had played before her, this was a big meal for concertgoers to eat on a school night. That said, theres no way this bill should have been edited, because every act on the bill made sense even Solazzo, who didnt have any background with Lee (unlike Brian Patneaude, Michael Benedict, Joe Barna, and a bunch of other players both onstage and in the audience).
Solazzo is a fantastic interpreter, and his inherent lyricism dovetails with Shaws expressive approach. We also got to see where Solazzo got that lyricism, as his father Mike played bass on a wonderful duo set of standards. Put simply, Papa can play! His bowing gave Monty Alexanders Renewal a lovely harmonic, and he played foil and foundation as his son showed hed not only learned his fathers lessons well, but hed picked up a few tricks of his own.
THE NEXT PHASE CONTINUES A couple of weeks before, Benedicts Jazz Vibes were a few blocks south of the Music Hall, making Bread & Jam Café bounce and bubble. How much difference does a couple of weeks make? Quite a bit, actually. Solazzo was back in the piano chair for this gig, which changed Jazz Vibes aesthetic ever-so-slightly from the aggressive attack Dave Gleason helped incite at Bread & Jam. Much as I love the latter methodology, Solazzo and tenorman Lee Russo are hand-in-glove in the Expressive department: They complete each others musical sentences, and one solo flows effortlessly into the next, even on driving pieces like Bernies Tune and Gingerbread Boy.
This made Julia Donnarummas cameo on Embraceable You all the more captivating, as the outstanding young vocalist took full ownership of Gershwins timeless lyric. Besides, any power lost in translation was easily replaced by Barna, who was ready, willing and able to rumble on the drums all night so much so that Russo got drowned out on a couple of occasions. That said, Michael Benedict Jazz Vibes is becoming one of the most interesting groups in the Capital Region, and their growth curve is definitely something to track.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE (AGAIN!) Ive got to stop being surprised about Brian Patneaude surprising me. Hes been working with a trio matrix for some time, and that format did lend itself to this almost-all-acoustic evening. And although Im used to Brians seemingly depthless range, the understated beginning to Drop brought me up short. Drop debuted on Patneaudes latest disc Riverview, and is another of his textbook jazz funkathons. Although the energy level definitely shot up as the tune progressed, the more personal arrangement gave him the chance to really get his nuance on.
Patneaude took that even further when he made his own tribute to the guest of honor with a lovely workup of Shaws Blue Hyacinth, following it with a breathy, mournful take on Brian Blades Through the Valley. Patneaude prefaced his closing tune by detailing Lees first lesson to him: Never bring music onstage. That said, he said sheepishly, this is a new tune
At which point Danny Whelchel reached down next to his drum kit and triumphantly held up a set of sheet music. (PS The tune is called Double Trio, and it rocks. And that is no surprise.)
HONOREE? YES. SPECTATOR? NOT SO MUCH After Cohoes Mayor John McDonald III declared Lee Shaw Day and 88.3 The Saint GM Darrin Scott presented her with a massive bouquet of roses, Shaw was visibly overcome, both by the honor and the prolonged standing ovation she got from the packed house. After trying to form some kind of acceptance speech, she blurted, I think Id better play! And play she did. At most tribute shows, the guest of honor maybe does one number, if that. Shaw (who could make the Energizer Bunny yell Time out!) did a full set of the straight-no-chaser, trad trio jazz shes been doing for over five decades.
She cooked tasty chestnuts like Fats Navarros Fats Blues and Ahmad Jamals Night Mist. She did an outstanding interpretation of Jeff Siege Siegels Shifting Sands and paid tribute to Siegel and Rich Syracuse, her longtime rhythm section. The biggest luminaries Ive ever been with, she informed us, Im with now. And then there was her own music, and the stories that went with them how Blossom was inspired by the short winter and the long blooming season; and how Blues 11 has 11 measures instead of 12 or 16, like most blues tunes have. Thats how it ended up, she said off-handedly, So I said Okay. It was familiar, it was friendly, and it was funny, too: When Siegel asked for a raise at one point, Shaw retorted, Im not AIG!
LAST WORDS The Saint could have gone the usual route for a fundraising concert: Get a national name, throw in a local group to keep early-arrivers amused, and then go count the box office. Instead, they not only kept it an all-local show, but they produced a solid tribute to a true Capital Region treasure. Props to everyone at Siena and Cohoes Music Hall, and big love to Lee Shaw, who is simply the best and all the best people know it.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.