Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Interstate connections: Local jazz prof links with Florida trio for an evening at the Jazz Kitchen

Tracking well: Zach Bartholomew, Miles Bozeman, and Brandon Robertson played the Jazz Kitchen.
It was a short second set during which to gauge the fresh rapport between saxophonist Matt Pivec, director of jazz studies at Butler University, and the Zach Bartholomew Trio from Tallahassee, Florida. But I had a good feeling about the contributions of each party to this get-together Monday night at the Jazz Kitchen.

Maybe a half-dozen numbers (with Pivec sitting out the trio's traversal of Kenny Barron's "Voyage") are sufficient when you're savoring the kind of musical empathy that's an indelible part of jazz tradition. Either it happens or you get something akin to the parallel play of toddlers.

Pivec told me he'd met Zach Bartholomew, Brandon Robertson, and Miles Bozeman for the first time that afternoon. A former Pivec student had contacted him to ask for help getting ZBT (as it likes to be known) an Indianapolis gig to fill out the trio's short Midwestern tour.

Matt Pivec
And so it came to be. One could well argue that Sam Rivers' thoughtful "Beatrice" didn't quite earn its place as the evening's finale. But Pivec thought there would be another set, it turned out, so the impromptu quartet closed things out about a quarter-hour early.

The meeting of minds occurred early, fortunately, around the evergreen "There Will Never Be Another You." Launched by Robertson's rubato bass solo and initial statement of the melody, the performance evolved as  pianist Bartholomew and Pivec found common ground. The tune permits lots of motivic fragmentation without disintegrating, and that's what pianist and saxophonist explored, each in his own way.

Pivec was also on alto sax for "Beatrice," which approached finale suitability with solos by drummer Bozeman at beginning and end. Contrast was provided by the tom-tom emphasis for his first turn in the spotlight, then a snare-centric coda to wrap things up. Bozeman likes to play with the components of the kit close in; his ability to vary intensity and timbre with no wasted motion would be good for young drummers to study.

What came off best were the foursome's interpretations of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" and Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You." In both instances, I admired the way Bozeman's drumming heated up behind Bartholomew's adventuresome solos. The ensemble was unified and powerful — and polished enough without ever coming close to being staid. Robertson took a searching solo in the Monk standard, infused with energy, though on the verge of sounding cluttered.

The most consistent change of pace, Hoagy Carmichael's sublime "Skylark," featured splendors as well as a problem. Bartholomew brought loads of insight into his solo, adding a blend of tension and lyricism with a repeated-note passage that functioned as a tribute to the title's avian songster. And Bozeman's use of mallets behind Pivec's solo was a zesty choice.

The problem? I sensed the band didn't know the bridge thoroughly: The harmonic shift toward the end — where Johnny Mercer's lyric goes "sad as a gypsy serenading the moon" — was never properly stated. Well, elision and deconstruction are part of jazz, too; I just regretted it had to happen to such a great song.

Since last night and thanks to the pianist's generosity, I've listened with pleasure to ZBT's "Out of This Town," a CD of mostly originals recorded in 2012. In this program, the five-year-old band lives up to the evidence of true partnership I heard at the Jazz Kitchen. It's an imaginative, tight-knit unit around the nine tunes, most of them Bartholomew's. These young men know how to relax, too, so the listener always feels invited to eavesdrop on a fascinating three-way conversation.