Thursday, August 8, 2019

Pianist Zach Lapidus pays us a visit and revives the trio format he enjoyed during his time here

Zach Lapidus put together his formerly active local trio for a reunion Wednesday night at the Jazz Kitchen.

Zach Lapidus's brief return to Indianapolis was a welcome highlight.
The New York musician, who spent several years in Indiana (first at Indiana University, then based in Indianapolis) after his youth on the West Coast, always had something original to say at the piano. When he reharmonized familiar pieces, he made alter egos out of the originals. He moved into the front rank of Indiana jazz pianists with two finalist finishes in American Pianists Association competitions.

In reconnecting with the musicians he appeared with regularly at the Chatterbox, the pianist created the impression of a still-active working band. You would never know there'd been an interruption in their collaboration. Bassist Jesse Wittman and drummer Greg Artry displayed instantaneous rapport with the pianist in one set of nine tunes.

"Wig Wise" (known from one of just about everyone's favorite piano-trio albums, the Ellington-Mingus-Roach "Money Jungle") displayed a rapport that included more than capable support for the solos. Solo spots were rather a continuation of true ensemble playing with a foregrounding of the soloist, particularly Wittman. And the convention of exchanges with the drummer was brought off without cliches.

Much-admired for his harmonic acumen, Lapidus is also an extraordinary exponent of melody. He approaches a tune like a singer, stretching that emphasis even through episodes that could only be pianistic.  That was immediately evident Wednesday in the standards "You Go to My Head" and "It Could Happen to You." In the latter song, after an unaccompanied intro, the pianist's solo was fresh and inspired. When he yielded the spotlight to Wittman, Lapidus' accompanying had lively but never intrusive presence. Artry's showcase illustrated that here's a drummer who plays the song, not just the drums.

The vocal instincts behind Lapidus' playing were also prominent in "There's a Lull in My Life," which was  among the ballads featuring a fine, nuanced ending. This trio never seemed to be haphazard about concluding a piece.

Classic bebop was among the styles the group managed with expert familiarity as it offered Charlie Parker's "Scrapple from the Apple" just before the set's one original, "You'll Be Sorry." As a composer, Lapidus here displays a suite-like sensibility: The work was by turns marchlike, rhapsodic, and obliquely melodic. Tempo shifts were part of its smoothly handled variety.

David Berkman's "Fairy Tale" offered Wittman an extensive outing in several episodes, with good interaction between him and his colleagues. The trio managed several shifts in dynamics expertly. The performance also featured Artry's strong, imaginative solo on brushes.

In town to participate with reedman-composer Franklin Glover on a new recording, Lapidus made room for a couple of "live" appearances, and the city's two main jazz rooms and their audiences — the Chatterbox and the Jazz Kitchen — were the beneficiaries.

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