Friday, May 2, 2014

Spring springs the fan toward some jazz sets at the two major sites here

In the midst of performing arts events of feastlike length and ambition, it's a relief to partake of some wholesome snack food.

Zach Lapidus at work applying personal magic to a piano.
One form that takes for me is jazz sets at the Chatterbox Jazz Club and the Jazz Kitchen. I've been to both places during the past two weeks mainly to enjoy the artistry of Zach Lapidus, who in July will move to New York to further his career.

Fortunately, the pianist from the West Coast who chose Indiana University to cap his formal education will be back in town as one of five finalists in the American Pianists Association's Jazz Fellowship Awards competition next year. It's the second time he's earned that distinction, and enthusiasts for the Lapidus style can only cross their fingers that he will grab the gold this time around. His harmonic insight, melodic gift and the sort of swinging that can sneak up on you are all top-notch.

On April 18, he fronted a sextet at the Jazz Kitchen offering a tribute to the electric Herbie Hancock, sampling some of the Chicago pianist-composer's output in his third major phase. That "Headhunters" era came after he burst upon the scene in his early 20s as alarmingly creative, fecund bandleader and sideman on the Blue Note label. In between he had garnered further stardom as the pianist in Miles Davis' second great quintet.

Lapidus' band had an exemplary, committed approach to this repertoire — even bearing down fruitfully on "Chameleon" at the end of the set I heard. This was despite Lapidus' jocular disparagement in his introduction from the bandstand of one of Hancock's overplayed hits of the era.

His colleagues, all frequently heard around town and known to be fit for every musical occasion they  undertake, were: Rob Dixon, saxophones; Mark Buselli, trumpet and congas; Brandon Meeks, electric bass; Joel Tucker, guitar, and Greg Artry, drums.

Tucker is the newest to me of these musicians, and he's quickly moved to the front ranks of Indianapolis jazz musicians. I would cite his work as well in the Indy Guitar Summit shows organized by master guitarist and all-round good citizen of jazz Bill Lancton.  I caught one of them at the Jazz Kitchen April 26, this one devoted to the blues — with Louisville specialist in the genre Jimmy Davis, who does vocals, too. Without a pretentious note in his voice, Davis can channel the legendary Robert Johnson, as he did on "Crossroads Blues."

The rest of the band, besides Lancton, Tucker and Davis, consisted of guitarist Frank Steans, electric bassist Scott Pazera, and drummer Greg Artry. Tucker took an amazing solo — intricate but not overloaded (he knew the business at hand, and tended to it) — on Wes Montgomery's "Fried Pies."

Brother Nick, a bassist who has also come to the fore with strength, building on his Hoosier education all the way, was part of Lapidus' trio gig last night (May 1) at the Chatterbox.  Yes, the lamentable holiday called Loyalty Day, the American attempt to distance us from May Day solidarity with workers worldwide, I chose to celebrate by declaring my loyalty to good jazz.

Joined by special guest Kenny Phelps on drums, lending a grace and luster all his own, Tucker and Lapidus made commendable work out of Kurt Weill's "Lost in the Stars" and Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." I enjoyed as well the set-ending version of the evergreen "I'll Be Seeing You" that paraphrased the tune all the way through till the end, when the memorable melody was enunciated almost literally with a tinge of the lyrics' regret.