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Bill Leary Quintet

Albany, NY
January 5, 2007

by Guy Flavin

Jazz, more than any other musical genre, has refused to die. Not in a Steven Tyler 'that guy's still around?' kind of way. Jazz has defied death by way of evolution. It is in constant flux, forever questioning and broadening its boundaries. Jazz approaches its past with reverence and its future with spontaneity; the musicians are deeply aware of where they're coming from and eager to discover where they're going. It's a total fusion of nostalgia and innovation.

On January 5, 2007, saxophonist Bill Leary's quintet occupied Savannah's on Pearl Street demanding, as its only ransom, a good time. The evening was a decoupage of age, era, and epoch. A stage, covered in neon spotlights and tinsel streamers that must have been an import from 1987; a décor of Christmas stockings, cubist paintings, and a zebra print rug; a quintet whose artillery included an electric bass and a 70's fender Rhodes alongside the more traditional saxophone, trumpet, drums, and upright; a set list of jazz standards, original compositions, unconventional arrangements, Frank Zappa, and James Brown.

The audience, as well, was a mélange of adolescent, co-ed, post-grad, childbearing, and retired. Before the music kicked in, it was a ridiculous potpourri of unrelated anachronisms. Once the piano and drums started brewing a big ol' vat of bubbling harmony and frothy dissonance, however, it all started to make sense.

An incredible Bill Leary tune, entitled "Silver Snail," sounded like a late-night magic jam between Radiohead and a mariachi band, as if Thom Yorke and Alex Torres found common ground in a 7/4 time signature. Keyboardist Brian Axford revamped "Night and Day," with anxious arpeggios and brassy conspiracy. Two James Brown tributes and a Frank Zappa cover later, I was convinced they could've covered Bach and I would've been into it.

Axford's Fender Rhodes, an electric piano indigenous to the 1970s, provided an incredible warmth and texture, flavoring each tune like a shot of cognac. His stage presence was an endearing marriage of idiosyncratic gesticulation and bold improvisation. He jerked and twitched like Woody Allen, mid-séance, channeling the spirit of Thelonius Monk. His performance reeked of eccentric genius. Paul Borrello was the perfect drummer, playing about fifty beats per blink and making it look as effortless as tapping the steering wheel on an impromptu cross country. Trumpeter Fred Young and Leary engaged in a constant debate, vacillating between agreement and disagreement, piercing the air with point and counterpoint, both demonstrating a unique mastery of musical rhetoric.

It was an entirely authentic experience in an age when music has
devolved into egotism and self-parody. There are so many things you
can get from the Internet, but a live jazz performance, despite what
YouTube says, is not one of them.

GUY FLAVIN is a senior in college studying Asian religion, philosophy, and film.