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Don Braden

The Joe Finn Trio


Saturday, April 2, 2005

by J Hunter

Even though small configurations are the norm in jazz, one would think playing without any rhythm section at all was akin to a trapeze artist working without a net. The only technology on stage at North Pointe Cultural Center was the digital camcorder Don Braden used to document the performance. Other than that, it was no drums, no bass, no amplification, and no fear for the tenor player Braden and keyboardist Xavier Davis as they worked through an outstanding set that mixed standards with original material.

This was not a soloist-accompanist dynamic. This was a collaboration based on years of individual and mutual work, as well as an obvious fondness of each other. The two Freddie Hubbard alumni exchanged grins before, during and after almost every number. During Davis’ dancing solo on Braden’s “The Vail Jumpers”, Braden watched Davis through the camcorder, smiling like a film director viewing a particularly worthwhile performance. That piece ended with a wonderful call-and-answer series and a firm handshake as both musicians congratulated the other’s great work over the crowd’s enthusiastic applause.

While some players fly up and down the scale to demonstrate their “range”, Braden takes one or two phrases and builds on them, injecting the music with a passion and soul reminiscent of Grover Washington, Jr. That passion never waned; from the opening solo of “I Thought About You”, through the hushed anticipation of “She’s On Her Way” (a Braden original written for a daughter not yet born) to the slow, gutsy set-closer “Not Yet”, Braden was in the moment, every moment, leaning into his solos as if to squeeze out every inch of every note.

“When I Fall In Love” appears on Braden’s latest disc, The New Hang (HighNote), as a duet with organist Kyle Koehler. Davis’ lyrical piano work took the Nat ‘King’ Cole standard to a different, more wistful level. Davis is as soft-spoken as Braden is garrulous, but Davis’ musical voice speaks loud and clear, bringing a variety of styles and influences to the table. Davis worked barrelhouse, blues, and classical touchstones into both solos and counterpoint, and his searching rendition of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” (which also referenced Porter’s “Night And Day”) showed a deep respect for a charter member of the Great American Songbook.

This show was the beginning of Hudson Valley Friends Of Jazz’ spring concert series at North Pointe. All shows include a pre-show question-and answer session, and this session was everything rock-and-roll meet-n-greets are not. Braden and Davis happily talked about their musical influences, their interaction with the great flugelhorn player Tom Harrell, and how the arrival of Wynton Marsalis affected more experienced players like Hubbard. Braden & Davis would have been glad to keep talking if organizer Tom Bellino hadn’t had to get the crowd upstairs for a solid set by the Joe Finn Trio.

By taking this idea from the experimental phase, Bellino and HVFOJ have created an invaluable service for Capital Region jazz fans: A concert series that is musically substantive, historically informative, and (above all) physically intimate. Kudos to them, to North Pointe, and to Planet Arts/one2one for making it happen. I’d applaud, but I did that Saturday night, just like the rest of the crowd.

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.