Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Rufus Reid Trio at the Jazz Kitchen: Comfortable mastery from the bass on out

The veteran bassist Rufus Reid is steeped directly in influences that stem from the favorable position jazz once enjoyed in popular culture: He first encountered the music of Horace Silver on a jukebox in Birmingham, Ala., in the early '60s.

Reid has both an old head and a young heart — an impression based on his second set Saturday night at the Jazz Kitchen. when he told that story.

Rufus Reid rendering righteousness
Fresh from an appearance Friday at the Chicago Jazz Festival, the 70-year-old master fronted a trio with pianist Steve Allee and drummer Steve Houghton. A nearly full house reveled in the comfortable vibe created by this compatible threesome in a half-dozen tunes, plus an encore suitable for a jazzman who's seen a lot: Eubie Blake's "Memories of You."

Indianapolis jazz fans know how capable Allee is of creating and sustaining a performance's atmosphere. So it was no surprise that the leader let him open a couple of the tunes unaccompanied. Allee stated the whole of a two-part medley alone, etching a beautiful interpretation as he worked in  a loping "stride" version of Silver's "Peace."

That provided a fine segue into a tribute to another recently deceased pianist, Mulgrew Miller. The full trio poured its full heart into Miller's "Second Thoughts." The performance included several surging climaxes, patiently built up and then cresting, like ocean surf captured in slow motion. Allee also introduced Tominho Horta's Brazilian ballad "Francisca," an ensemble winner that comprised a variety of virtuoso opportunities for Houghton.

The drummer was unfailingly sensitive to Reid's fondness for tender balladry, wielding brushes lightly on cymbals during the bassist's subtly inflected statement of the melody in Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now."  Reid also favors tunes that can go either way — toward something intensely funky and driving, or amply reflective. That may be why he took two solos in Allee's "The Rise of the Road," the second leading to a long diminuendo capped by an exquisite plucked bass harmonic.

Reid is ingratiating in his bandstand manner and in his music-making, too.  But he doesn't pander. There's no gratuitous playing to the gallery, yet the audience's pleasure never seems to be a consideration that's teasingly withheld.

He ended the set with a challenging, yet rewarding, performance of a composition he conceded was "out" — "Hues of a Different Blue," the title song of his 2011 Motema CD.  Harmonically unsettled, the work toggled between two rhythmic arenas — a churning beat alternating with medium-swing four-to-the-bar episodes.  Everything was smoothly managed by his band-mates, with Houghton (who, Reid told the audience, had never played this music before) taking expert charge of managing the shifts.

Reid's explicit gratitude for the audience and the club itself was thoroughly reciprocated — and deservedly so, given the trio's expertness in all aspects of its musical assignment.