T.O.P. (Terrasson, Okegwo and Parker)
Swyer Theatre @ The Egg
January 28, 2007
By J Hunter
Reunions are always the same thing: Who got grey, who got fat, who got indicted, who started a cult
Occasionally, though, a reunion can bring joy and beauty to all those who attend. Recently, pianist Jacky Terrasson reunited with bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Leon Parker - the players who backed Terrasson on some of his earliest releases, including his self-titled Blue Note debut in 1994. They were known as the Jacky Terrasson Trio back then; now they are T.O.P., and if I didn't know better, I'd swear they'd never been apart.
It's not that rare to see musicians with an affinity for each other, particularly in jazz. But for nearly two hours - which translates to one single, intermission-free set and a light-hearted encore take on You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To - T.O.P. displayed a chemistry and communication that could have very well been the first public display of mental telepathy. I almost resented the fact that none of the trio even looked at the audience during the show, until I realized these amazing players had found a single mental plain, and maintaining that state superseded the usual performance niceties. In a situation like that, all you can do is sit back and let the brilliance wash over you.
(The trio did come out after the show and meet with the crowd members who were still straggling out of the Swyer Theatre. Terrasson - who is as unassuming and approachable as he seems in every cover shot you've ever seen - answered every request for an autograph with a smile and a good word, and even posed for pictures. Somewhere, Thelonious Monk was appalled.)
It certainly made sense that Terrasson opened with a spirited cover of Monk's Dream; Terrasson first garnered serious attention when he won the 1993 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. But as the show went on, and Terrasson weaved his magic on originals (both his and Okegwo's) and standards like Ellington's Caravan and Sonny Rollins' St. Thomas, it became obvious that Monk is more than his meal ticket; he's also Terrasson's muse, bone-deep inside both Terrasson's ability to swing and his preference for unorthodox time signatures and chord progressions. It was almost as much fun watching Terrasson waiting to play - hunched over the piano, grinning like a fiend, his hands flexing and jumping, waiting for just the right moment to pounce on the keys once again.
I'd wanted to see Leon Parker in concert ever since I heard Above and Below, a mostly-percussion disc he cut for Sony in 1994. From the drum solo he played as a prelude to Monk's Dream, Parker was a revelation, using every surface and stick combination to drive the trio onward and upward. During one solo, Parker played cymbal with the stick end of a brush in his right hand, while playing a drum like a bongo with his left hand. Okegwo was an unknown commodity for me, but by the end of the night I hungered for more of his distinct compositions and substantial playing style. He brought a second voice to Terrasson's cascading take on Smile, Charlie Chaplin's ode to the poker face. Terrasson's arrangement was as hypnotic and satisfying as it is on the 2002 Blue Note disc of the same name, but Okegwo gave this rendition a heftier feel.
The bad news is that this reunion will be short-lived: Although T.O.P. will play a few more dates this year, Terrasson will be concentrating on a solo-piano tour, in support of an upcoming CD of solo tunes. The good news is that this group likes to play with each other, and although none of their week-long engagement at New York's Iridium was recorded, Terrasson likes the idea of recording this trio again. That's great, because now that this musical language has been rediscovered, it'd be a shame if it disappeared again.
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), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.