Billy Hart Quartet (The Jazz Standard 02.08.18)
I pushed through the doors of the club, closed to indicate a sound-check still in progress, and walked toward the server station. I stopped for a moment and watched as a tall thin man with hard features, a sharp jaw, and a flat-cap covering his closely cropped hair finished assembling a worn tenor saxophone on the stage by the piano. The club manager saw me from behind the bar and shouted. Peter, have you clocked in yet? I paused and shook my head. Clock in and come over here. I clocked in at the server station and walked toward the group of servers lined up at the bar.
From my spot on the stool closest to the stage, I watched the servers examine and taste from a mess of stemmed wine glasses scattered across the bar. The manager motioned to a group of uncorked bottles. Cabernet, Merlot, or Burgundy? He poured pungent purple burgundy into the glass in front of me and filled his own glass with the same. As he passed the bottle around the bar, the man on the stage stepped to the microphone and began to blow into the horn.
Warmups and sound checks are always interesting to hear. Some people play from the music they plan to play later in the evening. Others play entire tunes as though there were no one else around. Still others probe the extremes of their instrument as the engineer turns the dials, alternately pounding and whispering, speeding and loping slowly in a methodically utilitarian sequence.
It tastes – this might sound a little weird – like a barnyard. Yeah. Like dirt sort of. And hay.
Mark Turner stood at the microphone and explored his ear, tossing patterns into the air and spinning them through scales and transpositions until gravity took over, they dropped to the ground, and he abandoned them for something different.
Watch the sediment. Nah just go for it. Live a little.
Ethan Iverson sat in the corner, where the yellow circle of stage light met the shadow and peered casually through his thick-rimmed glasses at the screen of his phone. In front of him, the drums were arranged differently, pushed slightly to the right and forward on the stage. A very small change but one that indicated a group lead by a drummer. A small adjustment that would nudge the man behind the drumset into the audience’s field of focus when the whole group was on the stage. A lanky younger man with an unshaven face and blond hair pushed to one side stood on the right side of the stage swiping his finger across an iPad. As Turner played, he moved from spot to spot listening and adjusting. Listening and adjusting.
It’s very complex. There are a lot of conflicting flavors. I taste olives or pickles or something.
When I listen to music, I often think of it in shapes. Shapes that spin and morph and tumble, break, shatter, and move. Mark Turner plays in squares and blocks. Smooth straight lines with hard angles. Abrupt turns and strange shapes that would be awkward were they employed by anyone but him. In his supremely skillful hands, they are logical, compelling, even beautiful. As he warms up he sounds like he’s sketching; scribbling and following the lines as they emerge from a pencil. The pitches pour from the bell of his horn as he draws the angles and corners, one line determining the trajectory of the next until something emerges.
CREAM CHEESE! I taste cream cheese! Oh weird, yeah, me too.
From the left side of the room by the stairs leading up to the bar area, the man with the iPad nodded approval and raised his hand. Turner continued pouring breath into his horn for a few moments before his lungs emptied and he trailed off, scribbling over the edge of the page. He sat his horn on a stand behind him, thanked the man with the iPad, and walked briskly from the stage and out the door toward the stairs up to the sidewalk.
It has a funky sort of taste. It’s very funky.
I took the last swig and left the bar to inspect tables for wobbling and bathrooms for the proper quantity of reserve paper towels. I’d never thought of wine as funky or complex before. I tasted some of the cream cheese, though. For whatever that’s worth.