JAZZ BROTHERS UNITED
The Lark Tavern
August 3, 2014
by Tom Pierce
There was no shortage of reasons I’ve found the 3 Jazz Brothers United 7 PM Sunday Sessions on July 20, July 27 and August 4 all very worthwhile. Drummer/leader Joe Barna has continued to use his musical skill, initiative and enthusiasm to pull together yet another fine group of talented veteran and younger musicians: Lee Russo on tenor saxophone, Adam Siegel on alto saxophone, Mark Kleinhaut on guitar, John Menegon on bass and himself.
The reasons I’ve enjoyed these sessions enough to write a review are the fundamental, tried & true ones: high quality, engagingly varied & timeless material, excitingly delivered with solid, individual and collective artistry, energy and musicality. Although Joe Barna’s Jazz preferences center are identified with Hard Bop, over the 3 Sundays, there were plenty of selections from a variety of other styles and moods, that made for well-balanced, interesting evenings. This met Barna’s goal to “explore the history in an attempt to better identify ourselves with the evolution and progress of jazz.”
These songs included Miles Davis’ “Boplicity” from the ground-breaking “Birth of the Cool” sessions, an Afro-Cuban version of “Summertime”, Sonny Rollins’ irresistible Calypso based “St. Thomas”, ballads like “Skylark” featuring Adam Siegel & Lee Russo doing Coleman Hawkins’ classic “Body & Soul”, several iconoclastic Thelonious Monk compositions, “Well You Needn’t” & “Straight, No Chaser”, and the unforgettably delightful 1947 hit composed by Kansas City saxophonist Ben Kynard for the Lionel Hampton band, “My Little Red Top”, that numerous well known artists have covered.
Singling out any one player is difficult, but I’ll start with John Menegon, whose understated persona belies the crucially prominent way he so strongly links the harmony with the groove the band (rhythm section, chording instruments and horns) are striving to maintain. I’ve long believed as a listener, it’s more meaningful the way we FEEL the bassist, even more than how we HEAR him/her. As John has shown for years in the countless, different live & recording situations he’s been in, including his own fine 2014 quartet CD, “I Remember You”, that he’ll present on Oct 24 at A Place For Jazz, he’s enormously capable in this role. In the August 4 performance, when the accomplished Guitarist Mark Kleinhaut could not attend due to a back injury, John Menegon and Joe Barna had an extra responsibility without the chords to support the Horn line.
Between what John & Joe did, in addition to the two melodic saxophones, even non-musicians like myself, who usually are somewhat uncomfortable with the absence of a chording instrument (piano or guitar), still found the music flowing, accessible and sufficiently COMPLETE not to be distracting. Kudos are also in order for Jon Leroy on organ at the July 27 session, where his hard-driving, dynamic and melodic contribution ably filled in for the absence of both bass & guitar.
In addition to the inventive and intense SOLO playing of both Lee Russo and Adam Siegel, I should mention how I also enjoyed the other situations, where they played either together as an ensemble on the same melody or in counterpoint on different, but supportive melody lines. It pleasantly reminded me of hearing skilled Male and Female singers occasionally breaking out to do similar polyphonic lines.
The Jazz Brothers United consistently stimulated, not only the audience, who I observed responding in a visceral way to their energy and swing; but also additional very striking musicians (trumpeter Philippe Chow, guitarist Justin Hendricks and Jazz Hero Tim Coakley on drums) at various times to eagerly and effectively sit in. A good time was had by ALL, as I’m sure will continue in this Sunday series.
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 50 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland since 2001, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz in a variety of ways.