Monday, July 26, 2021

A master of funk drumming comes to town with two adepts on alto sax and organ

Mike Clark, Donald Harrison and Kendall Carter at the JK.

Mike Clark perfected a style of drumming that went hand-in-glove with the new idiom Herbie Hancock was exploring in the 1970s. It drew upon demotic black music without succumbing to "fusion" inanities. Now on the threshold of three-quarters of a century on the planet, Clark  has maintained eminence in his field, and has drawn extra attention hereabouts in recent recorded work with local tenor-sax maestro Rob Dixon. 

His decades of experience include holding down the percussion chair in organ trios. That's the kind of group Clark brought to the Jazz Kitchen Sunday night with alto saxophonist Donald Harrison and organist Kendall Keyz Carter. Clark's style has been called "linear funk," a term he's somewhat uneasy about, though he acknowledges it contains an accurate description of how he blends elements of the idiom over the drum set's different instruments rather than emphasizing the distinctive timbre of each.

The integration of patterns was evident in his composition "Loft Funk," a title explained by Harrison, who did most of the talking for the trio, as a tribute to the jazz loft scene in New York City, where the drummer from California moved several decades ago.  

There his exquisite patterning at fast tempos could be savored, such as the fast-paced dialogue he sets up between hi-hat cymbals and snare drum. Later, his way of doubling the intricacy of a pattern, then reducing it by half, then thickening the texture again, all while keeping the same pulse, could be amply appreciated. He doesn't waste motion, and articulates crisply all over the set.

He supplied much of the authentic flavor for Harrison's lengthy sung and played tribute to his hometown of New Orleans. The parade-ground rhythms endemic to that city's musical legacy were close at hand, and the pattern sometimes called "hambone" (known in old r&b chiefly through the work of Johnny Otis and Bo Diddley) underlay the performance.

Carter is a young organist capable of saying something significant in a phrase or two, reluctant to overload his message. He readily finds a groove that doesn't require the smeary flamboyance of some jazz organists. When he turns decorative, he makes it all count for something.

My first impression of Harrison had me worried, as he led the trio in a slow blues that settled readily into well-worn terrain. Not to worry: he later identified the piece as something he had created on his way to the bandstand, calling it "Blues for the Kitchen." In effect, the music was kind of a casual calling card, a warm-up and relaxed etude for a performance that quickly became committed as well as amiable.

He introduced a more original piece of his by explaining the title "Mister Cool Breeze" as a moniker applied to him by Lena Horne through his long-ago association with the glamorous, widely admired singer. He admitted reveling in that identity, striking a couple of cool-daddy poses, after recounting his discomfort at being called "Duck" in his youth. Donald Duck was obviously not a desirable image for a young man working on his status as a jazz saxophonist. Harrison has probably told the story dozens of times, but made it seem as appealingly impromptu as his best soloing of the evening.

The Thelonious Monk evergreen "Well You Needn't"  was one of two pieces from sources outside the band. The other was one of the oldest songs modern jazzmen are fond of: "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise." The 1928 Sigmund Romberg tune was delivered in a slightly frantic style that didn't bring forward anybody's best side. It at least showed signs of Clark's stylistic breadth. 

There can be no doubt that this seasoned drummer is not in the habit of waiting for the magic to happen. By way of friendly warning, he told an Indy Jazz Fest master class a while back: "If you're in New York playing drums and you're waiting for everything to come together, and you're not determined to bring it together, I'm going to steal your gig." It's easy to suppose that Mike Clark has never had to be idle.

[Photos by Rob Ambrose]

Sunday, July 25, 2021

'Of imagination all compact': Indy Shakes helps inaugurate a refurbished park site with a splendid 'Midsummer Night's Dream'

Scene of enchantment: The full cast of "Dream" in an unforgettable setting

The professionalism long characteristic of the Indianapolis Shakespeare Company makes the most of new room to romp in as it inaugurates the refurbished Taggart Memorial Amphitheater at Riverside Park.

The 2021 production to mark the company's  renewed activity in a new place is "A Midsummer Night's Dream," a comedy of special stature as far as Shakespeare's poetry, comic insight, and dramatic elan are concerned. There are many ways for stagings of this magical play to succeed, and Indy Shakes seems to have accessed all of them.

The new production, which has three more performances next weekend, is designed with such imagination and evident zest that everything the audience sees throughout its two-hour span is worthy of the occasion. Furthermore, the concepts embodied in this show meet the play's embrace of risk and change on its own terms. And then, the performance itself (as seen July 24) is stunningly well-integrated and brought off by an array of the Indianapolis area's best actors.

As director, Lauren Morris takes up the inherent confusion of the action boldly, while finding ways of getting her players to bring clarity to it all. With the production's pristine amplified sound and the vividness with which the cast delivers the text, no audience is likely to be subject to any more bafflement than what "Dream" itself properly presents.

Not only has Morris cast the play's two most powerful couples — Theseus and Hippolyta of secular ancient Greece and Oberon and Titania of fairyland — with the same two actors, but with the help of Guy Clark's costume design, imbued them with gender fluidity. In 2021, we've learned that sexual politics involves more complex questions of identity than even Kate Millett imagined. In a world of witchcraft, these questions are all the more pronounced: we see an  Oberon sweeping about the stage in a flowing robe showing a lot of leg and an androgynous Titania with a chopped-off hairstyle clad with dark goth severity. Maleness and femaleness are subject to interpretation.

Their opposite numbers in Athens are more conventionally assigned, but care is taken not to turn costuming into disguise. We first see Constance Macy as Hippolyta primped by underlings, then striking a forced model pose; acquired through warfare, she's a reluctant trophy wife in the making. Her forthcoming wedding to King Theseus (Jen Johansen) is the occasion for all the tense anticipation pervading the play: when her groom-captor reaches out for a hand to accompany her offstage, she disdains his grasp with a swipe of the hand,  like Melania publicly rejecting an overture by Donald.

Then there is Milicent Wright as the forceful parent Egeus, pressing the case for linking daughter Hermia to eligible bachelor Demetrius. Hermia, played with feisty resolve by Kim Egan, is clear about her opposition. Enforcing parental privilege in such matters, the king rules that, if she persists in her frowardness, perpetual maidenhood in a convent awaits her, "chanting faint hymns to the cold fruitless moon." 

It's an early reminder of the poetic image the earth's satellite has carried from ancient times, attractive to lovers but with its periodic changes symbolizing fickleness and promising compulsory chastity and barrenness  to those she rules. Set designer S. Bart Simpson has brilliantly picked up on the moon's significance in the stage's two main props: large white crescents that can serve as both couches and shelters separately or embrace a passageway and imply a sphere when stood on end and curved toward each other. The moon reigns in the play's nighttime setting, its waxing and waning indicating the pervasive threats to happy romantic unions. I have rarely seen any staging's structural element carry so much symbolism so usefully and so gracefully. I could barely stop admiring those crescents throughout the show, especially with the superb lighting design of Laura E. Glover to enhance them and their surroundings.

The young lovers arrive at the right alliances at last.

The young lovers, obstacles to whose happiness are too tangled to explain here, received poised portrayals amid all the confusion they must try to work through in the maze of the nighttime wood. In addition to Egan, Adam Tran (Demetrius), Kelsey Johnson (Helena), and Daniel A. Martin (Lysander) brought their characters' different levels of wiliness and desperation to the fore, their physical struggles coached by fight choreographer Rob Johansen. When fragmentary dance or frozen movements are on order, Mariel Greenlee's choreography has neatly supplied them.

Indy Shakes has drawn a remarkable history of commitment from actors here, such that the "rude mechanicals" who prepare a travesty drama for the impending royal ceremony are practically an all-star assemblage. This troupe is under the super-confident direction of Milicent Wright's Peter Quince. With some well-managed overlap with Tatiana's entourage of fairies, the roughhewn amateurs under the carpenter's command are Claire Wilcher's Bottom, Charles Goad 's  Starveling, Michael Hosp's  Snug, Shawnte P. Gaston's Snout, and Isaiah Moore's Flute.

Excitable tradesmen-players of Athens put on a play.

Among the stellar cast's fresh, wise portrayals is Joshua Coomer's Puck, the nimble servant of the fairy king Oberon, who has the play's last words. The character's bid for applause is set in a context of acknowledging error in both the natural and supernatural worlds. Puck is amply familiar with both, as the audience sees through his mistaken magical anointing of the wrong Athenian swain in the woods. That error has baffled the romantic liaisons, giving extra weight to the pregnant remark of one of the lovers — "The course of true love never did run smooth" — that 's among Shakespeare's chief contributions to the world's stock of adages.

Error, misprision, and flaws of action and ambition, presented most openly in the Athenian blue-collar workers' travesty of a mythological tragedy, are folded into the play's message of finding harmony in love and mutual acceptance. The actors' command of and evident respect for the  play's language was instructive. It  was never woodenly shaped, but always achieved a blend that honored both the artificiality of the verse and its inherent naturalness of expression.

Animating all this was the thoroughgoing honor the production gives to supernatural elements, whether spoken or visual. A "Dream" of convincing force must always seem to believe in the illusion as much as in the reality through which the story engages our emotions. At the root of that story is a validation of ethical behavior in matters of the heart.

Here's an example of what I mean that some may find farfetched: I've often thought, even as an ex-Christian, that the gospel accounts of Jesus' ministry require both the miracles and the real-life lessons for the significance of the narrative to come through, setting aside the theology. Similarly, "A Midsummer Night's Dream" runs into danger if it treats the magic as no more than charming decoration. Everything is essential. Suspension of disbelief is a mandate. At bottom, charity is the iron law.

The play's manner of showing how difficult interpersonal harmony is to achieve is inseparable from the fantasy that inflects the story. All the details — the lavish evocations of nature, both actual and imagined — are embedded. Enchantment is the necessary companion to better behavior, though that's not guaranteed. When Oberon introduces Puck to a magic flower he wants him to fetch, though for ignoble purposes, the fairy king begins, self-spellbound: "I know a bank where the wild thyme blows." 

I was all ears as Jen Johansen said it, as if I might want to find such a flower, perhaps for a better application, but who knows? Being susceptible to such enchantment involves a state of mind and belief that this marvelous production makes easy. You won't find a more inviting way to get to know the revived Taggart Amphitheatre than by taking in Indy Shakes' "Dream."

 [Photos by Wildfire]

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Cincinnati Opera takes outdoors its fascination with 'Tosca,' this time with COVID constraints


It's a signal of Cincinnati Opera's resourcefulness and unstoppable focus on essentials that it can present Giacomo Puccini's "Tosca" in an uninterrupted 90-minute span, with a large audience socially distanced outdoors at a site some 16 miles distant from its traditional downtown stomping grounds.

Cavaradossi as portrait painter.
The last time the company presented the work, a production conventionally presented indoors reveled in splendor and detail relevant to the history-saturated story. At Summit Park, however, the action had to be shoehorned downstage in front of the orchestra, with cameras focused on its main points so that the visual basics could be concentrated on the singers and shared on stage-side screens, on which the libretto text in English translation could be readily followed. Lighting design and a severe assortment of properties have to create much of the illusion, with costuming completing the task.

In a context of admiration for the technical and artistic achievements of this show, which I saw Friday night, it's incumbent upon me to point to the compromises. Under the circumstances, perhaps all of them can be defended, though I'm not sure all were necessary sacrifices. Memories are probably fresh among many loyal patrons of CO's 2016 presentation of Puccini's gripping melodrama, and the opera is generally well-known. Puzzles might well remain, however, in processing the dramatic advance and coming to grips with just what manner of "Tosca" we are getting.

An opening toward acceptable cuts and tweaking the story's meaning can be seen in the structural clutter of the first act, which vexed the opera's creators at the turn of the 20th century. A way had to be found to reduce the plot of the engendering Victorien Sardou play, stuffed as it is with a stage-worthy interpretation of Rome's historical turmoil in the Napoleonic era,  to just a sturdy thread of political intrigue. Both Puccini and his librettists  knew that the story of a tempestuous diva and her fraught love for a nobleman of leftist and painterly leanings had to allow the composer to indulge his lyrical gifts. The musical stage has never tolerated granular renderings of history, from "The Coronation of Poppea" to "Hamilton."

Some of the droll, fussy mutterings of the Sacristan (Samuel Smith) about the avocational

Phillip Bullock as Angelotti, the disappearing fugitive

painter Cavaradossi (Russell Thomas) who expects a lot of him seem to have been cut. But the main first-act sacrifice was to reduce the fugitive radical Angelotti  (Phillip Bullock) to a walk-on (or, better, a run-on) role. After he bursts onto the scene seeking refuge, he becomes part of this production's excision of the opera's political struggles, in which republicans allied with the invading French vie with a royalist faction for control of Rome. A unified Italy lies far in the future of the precisely placed action (1800).

As we anticipate crucial dialogue between Angelotti and his aristocratic ally Mario Cavaradossi, all of a sudden we get instead the villainous police chief Scarpia (Quinn Kelsey) coming into the church for reasons that are clearer in the original. He says that Tosca must not see him there, while we're thinking she has just left after a contentious dialogue with her art-focused lover. But she's back again, as she truly is in the opera, with no clear motivation for her return.

The effect of this is to make all the more central a kind of love triangle, though to what extent Scarpia is in love with Tosca is a fascinating question.

But the upshot is that we root for the diva and her true lover to find happiness in a way that defeats Scarpia's intense focus on her. Ana Maria Martinez played the Roman celebrity singer with authentic fire and pathos. I'm not sure what a statue of the Madonna is doing in Scarpia's living quarters, but she plausibly addressed her major aria, "Vissi d'arte," to it as she justifies her life and stalls for time to save her lover. As the character sets aside her habitual jealousy to scheme on behalf of Mario, Martinez assumed the stature of sturdy heroine that the opera requires. 

Thomas took command of his role early on, pouring his ample tenor into "Recondita armonia," the aristocratic painter's  praise of art's way of blending different impressions and observations into a unified result. His delivery was on the loud side, but much of the necessary amplification throughout the show verged on the stentorian. In the hero's case, there could be no doubt that here was a true tenore di forza. Conductor Xian Zhang managed to keep a handle on the inevitable balance problems that come up through amplified outdoor opera, with a particular challenge in the massed act-one finale.

Floria instructs Mario in how to play dead.

Mario's playful side, especially when he tries to calm Tosca down a little later, seemed a little too muted. But Thomas' intensity about anything this character deeply believes in always came through. Director Jose Maria Condemi's decision to have him launch his poignant third-act aria, "E lucevan le stelle," lying on a platform floor seemed questionable, but I guess it was to emphasize that the hero, even while reflecting on happier times, is thoroughly exhausted by all he has been through.

With Scarpia's detective work in fierce pursuit of the escapee largely omitted, his obsession with Tosca and his stature as police chief serving the monarchy becomes a secondary issue. He moves straight toward arousing Tosca's jealous temperament by presenting evidence that Mario's painting hobby is a cover for his pursuit of other women.

On Twitter, I recently came across an interview with a leading baritone who was delighted to have a chance to reinterpret Scarpia as a man genuinely attracted to Floria Tosca and frustrated that another man has a prior claim to her love. Thus conceived, he's a more complex character than is often assumed, one whose cruelty has been forced upon him by having his romantic plans thwarted.

Tosca and Scarpia grapple: There's no love either way in that grip.

I would be skeptical of such an interpretation, because a genuine Scarpia needs to be the demon that Tosca calls him in the second act. Either that or he's possessed by a demon, because no singer attempting the role should bother to chafe against playing the pure type of villain. Kelsey's portrayal hued to that model, though his Scarpia didn't seem full-bloodedly obsessed with conquering Tosca while flirting with her at the church. More rancid gusto oozes from him when he's in his element, a well-appointed apartment in the Palazzo Farnese with an adjacent torture chamber.

Scarpia's anxiety about how well he's carrying out his police duties recedes to minor fretting in this production. In the volatile political climate, a job performance review is always imminent. But this Scarpia doesn't seem cruel out of his function as a loyal time-server. He's no precursor to  Adolf Eichmann, harshly operating from a sense of duty, as another notable villain, Don Pizarro, does running the prison in "Fidelio." The 2016 CO production of that opera, while riskily updated, had a nice touch in its huge bank of file cabinets behind Pizarro's desk.  This is bureaucratic evil. (Russell Thomas, by the way, made a strong impression as another hero, Florestan, in that show.)

A man under demonic control pushes all other influences to the side, however, a fact substantiated by Angus Fletcher's fascinating study "Allegory: The Theory of a Symbolic Mode." He may not even appear to be under conscious control, but "by some foreign force, something outside the sphere of his own ego," in Fletcher's words.  Interpreting this opera's villain allegorically, then, offers some clue to its enduring power and the way "Tosca" hangs together despite its somewhat unresolved imbalance of a fraught love story enmeshed in political intrigue. 

That's because Scarpia's demon exerts control on the two other main characters who are by no means demonic: Cavaradossi and Tosca, and they are partly allegorical as a result, standing for the enduring symbolic magic of love-death. We don't need to set Scarpia alongside Iago, even though the police chief explicitly does so. Scarpia is narrower in intelligence and freedom of action, and the story he fatally shapes benefits from seeing him as a man who "compartmentalizes function" (Fletcher again). His main function is to pursue his sex-and-power obsession to its fatal conclusion. He mimics extreme personal control, but he is really a demonic agent.

As the poet Anne Sexton says in transforming the fairy story of Rumpelstiltskin, a classic demonic figure: "No, I am not the law in your mind / the grandfather of watchfulness. / I am the law of your members, the kindred of blackness and impulse." So among other aspects of its version, Cincinnati Opera's "Tosca" sets the demonic in the center of the vivid impression the opera has made for over a century. It's too bad this production reduces the world outside these three characters so drastically, but at length that choice doesn't distort this enduring classic. 

[Photos by Philip Groshong]




Monday, July 12, 2021

The penultimate weekend of the Indianapolis Early Music Festival features two different pairings of string instrument and harpsichord

Patrick Merrill (left) and Wade Davis performing at Indiana History Center.
The next-to-last weekend of the Indianapolis Early Music Festival was a scaled-down affair, bringing to live-streamed audiences (with the addition of two in-person concerts Sunday) a couple of Baroque duos.

Both instrumental programs paid tribute to the prominence of vocal music in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sunday's concert, with cellist Wade Davis and harpsichordist Patrick Merrill performing under the ensemble name of S'amusant, reached back further in that category. It opened with their arrangement of the hymn "O ignee Spiritus" by Hildegard of Bingen, a 12-century German visionary regarded as the foremother of all female composers in the Western art tradition.

The arrangement was tasteful and not excessively gussied up. The players, in adding to the monodic line of the original, stayed true to the mood of highly focused reverence for the Holy Spirit. In the main repertoire the Baltimore ensemble concerns itself with, the aria "Io veggio i campi verdeggiar fecondi" followed in confirmation of the duo's well-cultivated rapport, with particular luster in Davis' glowing lyricism. The lyricism seemed a little too precious to me in his solo, the Prelude from J.S. Bach's second cello suite. But the cellist's musical personality made the interpretation mostly convincing, and his tone was exquisite.

Friday's virtual concert, by violinist Ingrid Matthews and harpsichordist Byron Schenkman,

Ingrid Matthews displayed particular affinity for Handel.

was titled "Handel and the Italians in England," indicating the vogue for Italian opera and instrumental styles nurtured and sustained in the early decades of the 18th century by the imported and most welcome genius of George Frideric Handel (to use the English version of his name the composer adopted after moving to England in 1710).

Schenkman and Matthews paid tribute to the enormous success of Italian opera among English audiences (tolerating and for a while loving music sung in a language they couldn't understand), with the violinist taking the vocal part of "Amarti si vorrei," the heroine Agilea's lamenting aria in "Teseo" (1713). Lifting up such a crucial part of Handel's reputation in his adopted homeland in the middle of this performance created the opportunity for two Handel violin-keyboard sonatas to represent the transplanted German at either end of the recital, which also featured characteristic pieces by Geminiani, Scarlatti, and Elisabetta de Gaberini (also a singer of distinction in Handel oratorios).

As for the more recent recital, I found the S'amusant duo especially impressive in Giovanni Bononcini's Sonata for Cello and Continuo, whose two-movement breadth of expression and texture was most welcome in a recital that verged on the sparse side. Despite the seriousness of the two harpsichord solos Patrick Merrill offered, the brevity of the selections and of the concert itself gave a sampler kind of flavor to the occasion.

Admirable and generally well brought off was Davis' advocacy of Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, the most eminent early composer of African descent to come to attention currently; the recently revived Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra was a concert advocate for him in May. An Allegro movement from his Sonata in G minor gave, despite a few flat high notes, a fitting flourish to S'amusant's local debut.




Friday, July 9, 2021

Cut off in mid-career, Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller romp on common ground on 'In Harmony'

 Thanks to Zev Feldman and his collaborators, a new two-disc treat from Resonance Records enhances claims on jazz immortality that can be made on

behalf of Roy Hargrove and Mulgrew Miller.

The title "In Harmony" is an understatement, but a necessary one for the sake of brevity. I say that because what the trumpeter and pianist were captured playing on two concert dates in 2006 and 2007 illustrated more than harmony in its formal sense. It also revealed complete rapport between two musicians capable of inspiring each other and shedding new light on a host of popular and jazz standards.

Hargrove and Miller offered their gifts generously at the Kaufman Music Center in New York City in January 2008 and at Lafayette College (Easton, Pa.) in November 2007. Each man, after a wealth of contributions to the music within a brief span of active life, died in middle age — Miller in 2013, Hargrove in 2018. 

As his career blossomed, Hargrove deepened his ideas and used his instrumental fluency across a wide spectrum. Exciting in such early recordings as "Roy Hargrove Quintet with the Tenors of Our Time" (Verve, 1994), by the next-to-last decade of his life, the trumpeter had trimmed out some of his flamboyance. Here he is encouraged, perhaps tacitly, by the reflective style of Miller. The result was a thoroughly balanced style for Hargrove, and here the duo concert format puts it on full display.

He could continue to trot out the showboat side, while always keeping his golden tone, in such a standard as "Just in Time." Miller's unaccompanied intro sketches the song's easy delight in a new romance. Then Hargrove ramps that up into an outburst of exuberance.

"Invitation," an slightly exotic favorite of jazz players, has a great Hargrove solo, with his characteristic melodic and rhythmic variety. There is typically a melodic point to every phrase from the trumpeter's horn, as can readily be heard in "What Is This Thing Called Love?", the Cole Porter evergreen that opens the two-disc set.

The duo both personalize their solos, while they play together with thorough meshing of their individualism. Jazz pianists with considerable facility are often tempted to present their chops as substantial when they in fact are giving vent to space-filling decoration. Miller was a little bit like that, though his thorough knowledge of the jazz-piano tradition opened access to something that could usually put the ornamental stuff into an effective context. He finds those contexts repeatedly here.

Other than noting my slight reservations about this much-missed pianist's playing, I can readily conclude that there's nothing substandard about what this inspired duo pours out at length. It's great to have Miller and Hargrove so fraternally and posthumously brought forward on a new recording. Kudos to Resonance for another good reclamation project.



Friday, July 2, 2021

With two sets of trio partners, Gary Walters grabs the pandemic by the tail in 'The COVID Sessions'


Gary Walters takes care of business.

Long known for a variety of teaching and performing activity as a locally based jazz keyboard maestro, Gary Walters comes up with a new studio recording of trios made since COVID-19 upended so many lives. 

"The COVID Sessions" (available through the website linked above) reflects his taking advantage of the relative idleness enforced upon many active musicians as the concert scene dried up early last year. 

He brings back some original tunes and revives jazz pieces he likes, plus a couple of Great American Songbook standards. He divides the chosen repertoire between trios with Thomas Brinkley and Chris Pyle on five tracks, Peter Hansen and Gene Markiewicz on three. And there's one duo track each with bassists Hansen and Brinkley.

Walters has a mainstream sensibility, but exhibits plenty of ideas for putting his personal stamp on the music. The trio's introduction to "Monk's Dream," for instance, is captivating in its sandpapery dissonance before Thelonious Monk's tune gets under way. The eccentricity of the composer is there, but the trio also shows how rooted Monk was in straight-ahead swing; this is confirmed by the neat dialogue between cymbals and drums in Markiewicz's solo.

Melody has always been a strong aspect of Walters' playing, and when he and Brinkley apply their personalities to Bill Evans' "One for Helen," the charm is infectious. There is always variety in the pianist's stylistic approach: He comes up with a florid intro to Cole Porter's "I Love You," then fashions chipper, slightly laconic phrasing for the tune itself. Hansen lays down a soaring bass solo.

As for the set-closer, the tender evergreen "My Foolish Heart," it's worth mentioning that Hansen, a veteran member of Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra double-bass section, is one of the few jazz bassists I've heard who is thoroughly presentable when he picks up the bow, never wandering out of tune. Often, some great jazz players who pluck with authority tend to draw winces from the listener in their arco work.

Duke Ellington's "African Flower" ushers in a slightly exotic atmosphere, with greater pedal resonance from the piano and Pyle's soft-spoken drive relying on hands rather than sticks. (Pyle's distinctive art work adorns the disc's cover, too.) The other borrowed tune not yet mentioned is another Bill Evans gem, "G Waltz."

A cheerful etude-like feeling pervades "Schelle Intermezzo," which Walters describes as something he wrote on a break from fulfilling a composition assignment during studies in the century's first decade with Butler University composer-in-residence Michael Schelle. 

Further drollery, affectionate and never too clever for its own good, can be found in "Izzy Baby," a tribute to the Walters household's "first dog" and "an effort to capture her moods." Brinkley and Pyle fully buy into the portrait of a bounding canine companion. The performance is typical of the rapport Walters naturally achieves with his band mates — whether in the studio during COVID or (once again, it is expected) — out and about on the concert bandstand. "The COVID Sessions" sums up an era for Walters and can be looked at as a launching pad for the reopening of live performance.