Thursday, October 31, 2019

Jeremy Pelt paints edge to edge in honoring visual art with his quintet

Creativity across artistic divisions rarely goes from yearning and admiration to a substantial result that seems
Jeremy Pelt displayed authenticity and fire as composer-trumpeter.
more than mere tribute.

Jeremy Pelt's "Rodin Suite" may be an honorable exception. The trumpeter-bandleader and his quintet introduced Indianapolis to the work, the centerpiece of his latest recording, "Jeremy Pelt The Artist," Wednesday night at the Jazz Kitchen.

He explained it all just after hitting the bandstand for the first set. When he travels, he likes to visit museums. In Paris, he enjoys returning to the Rodin Museum, whose focus is the genre-shattering sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1919). Observing burgeoning artists making sketches on site, Pelt figured that making musical sketches while looking at Rodin's art might be worth doing.

The five-part suite that resulted formed the bulk of the Pelt quintet's performance here. The work of his band was exemplary: pianist Victor Gould, bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Allan Mednard, and vibraphonist Chien Chien Lu. The musical ebb and flow of energy and intensity was matched to Pelt's responses to specific works, with the exception of a generalizing "Epilogue," which struck me as Pelt daring to encounter Rodin on the same high plateau of achievement.

This conclusion allowed the musicians a more abstract and freewheeling approach to the subject. After an overlong introductory solo by Archer, a steady groove was set up with muted trumpet and piano laying out the material. Rhapsodic flourishes seemed to mimic the sense of muscle-flexing and living physicality, draped and undraped, that distinguish Rodin's mature style.

The suite's finale featured expansive exchanges between Gould and Lu over the driving pulse of drums and bass. It went on for at least ten minutes, and must be accounted one of the most exciting episodes I have heard in 25 years of frequenting the Jazz Kitchen. I regretted only that, sitting on the drums and vibes side of the room, I couldn't hear Gould's contributions in detail. But it was fun getting acquainted with the artistry of the young Taiwanese vibraphonist.

Her playing here and throughout the set maintained a high level of alertness and collegiality. In accompaniment, she helped outline the main themes and often softened her attack, using four mallets, to support the harmony. When she was in the spotlight, she effortlessly combined rhythmic and melodic imagination in her two-mallet solos. Her phrasing had endless variety: rising sequences, a full range of accents, tendrils of melody that cut off abruptly in order to shift the focus to her rhythmic acuity, and a blend of funkiness and airborne effusions.

Rarely do you hear shouts of encouragement and applause mid-solo except when drummers are holding forth (as Mednard did later in the set), but Lu got such acclaim as "Rodin Suite" reached its climax. It must be said there was well-founded mutual admiration between her and the pianist, despite his being a little indistinct whenever Mednard was in full cry.

The leader's playing showed the richness of his tone best when he played slightly off-mike. The full-on open-horn sound we heard early in the set didn't present him to full advantage.  But he was golden when less amplified in a mainstream ballad, Lucky Thompson's "While You're Gone," and Gould could be heard more clearly than before. The pianist's  excellence had already received crystalline display in Pelt's tribute to a painting by the Spanish modernist Luis Faeto — a favorite artist of the musician when he travels to Madrid.

Pelt's melodic gift moved to the forefront in the last piece, "As of Now," an original that capped a generously proportioned set just before the band's closing theme, threaded with the leader's thank-yous and recrediting of his colleagues.

 Rodin's "Burghers of Calais," the foundation of "Rodin Suite"'s second movement.
In his several recordings for MaxJazz in the past decade, I was more impressed with Pelt's playing than with his compositions. Still, those recordings show a knack for choosing good sidemen that obviously continues to the present day. The current Pelt seems to me to bring his writing and his performing up to an equal level, and with such a band as this one, there's no doubt he's getting the best possible exhibition of his creativity.

To return to the "Rodin Suite," there was a shrewd representation of the self-sacrifice that several Frenchmen were willing to make in the Hundred Years' War, as depicted in one of Rodin's most famous sculptures, "The Burghers of Calais." There was steely resolve in the music, but it wasn't overstated. And it made a nice contrast when juxtaposed with the opening movement, "Call to Arms," and the suite's third section, "The Gates of Hell."

That opened with a fanfare-like figure, which quickly dissolved into shrouded mystery, the trumpet trilling ominously. A bass pattern, suggesting a solemn procession, set the rest of the movement on a dead march (of which Chopin's "Marcia funebre" is the best known example), which gained solidity and portentous force in a long crescendo before a sudden fadeway toward the end. That movement could stand alone as an example of what the Pelt quintet displayed here, but there was so much more to enjoy as well.

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