Originally published on rec.music.bluenote
Well, for the second week in a row I’ve been fortunate enough to hear a top quality pianist without having to cross the Hudson (last week was Keith Jarrett at NJPAC and there are several connections to him here).
Renee Rosnes has been a favorite of mine since the late 1980s when she played in OTB. Check my WWW site for a detailed discography. Although I’ve heard her in many settings (OTB, her own quartet, with J.J. Johnson, various all-star aggregations), this was very different because the emphasis was not on original compositions, but was slanted more towards standards.
BTW – for those interested in Renee’s solo albums, she had a few of each at the gig (I think the first 3 are now out of print) and I see that her WWW site at www.jazzcorner.com has these available.
On Saturday she played two sets of duos with the solid bassist Ray Drummond. The venue was the Baird Center in South Orange, which holds just over 100 people. Aside from a few minor technical challenges (brief PA problems, a very squeaky piano bench), it was a perfect place to see music of such a very intimate nature.
They started off with “Speak Low” and the interaction between the two musicians was inspiring. While Drummond (and even Rosnes) read a few tunes this evening, this was one that they both knew cold. So watching their faces was a joy as Renee put some interesting twists into the harmony. Drummond (they call him “bulldog”) has a great expressive face.
“Moon and Sand,” the beautiful Alec Wilder composition (which I met, coincidentally, through the Keith Jarrett Trio recording) followed. I have to learn this one. It’s got some very hip changes and Renee’s arrangement had a nice intro-type thing with the bass.
There were two things that struck me about Renee’s playing on this occasion: her use of a very Coltrane-My-Favorite-Things trill and an almost “just kidding” big upwards glissando that never *really* happened until the last tune of the night. These returned several times that night, although I’ve not heard her use these devices before. She also played some of those 4 diminished things that George Cables uses a lot and there was one of those Bud Powell descending triad black key-white key things that Kenny Barron has appropriated by playing it on every engagement or album he’s on.
“Just Squeeze Me” was next, with some very amusing quotes (Pettiford’s “Blues in the Closet” was a favorite of both), heavy swing, two-handed octaves, block chords – great. Oh, by the way, both Renee and Drummond do that vocalizing thing like Powell, Jarrett, Peterson, et al. at times. What’s interesting is that Renee’s is an octave higher than what the boys do. Ray Drummond’s straightfaced quote of “Shave and a Haircut” during the fours had everyone falling out.
A trio of Ellington tunes began with her debut performance of “Fleurette Africaine” – played much more darkly than I’m accustomed to hearing it. This was followed by the haunting “Reflections in D” and then by “Angelica” – from the Duke & Coltrane album. Thus ended the first set.
After intermission we seemed to move into the “two-beat” set – starting with Dexter Gordon’s “Cheese Cake,” they also included “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” (with an extended unaccompanied Drummond solo) and Kenny Barron’s invigorating “Calypso.” But the real killer was the second piece, a beautiful tune that employed pedal point, unexpected resolutions and a wonderful floating feel. I was sure that I’d ask Renee for a copy of this unrecorded new original of hers. When she announced it as “With a Little Help from My Friends” by The Beatles, I was stunned. Reharmonized to the max, it was slightly reminiscent of Buster Williams’s “Christina” or maybe even a little like Bill Evans’s treatment of “Some Other Time.” Concrete proof that there is viable material in post-1950s pop tunes. Pray that she records this and soon. It’s amazing.
A rendition of “In a Sentimental Mood” was somewhat spoiled by Drummond’s bowing of the melody, clearly not planned – I think they were in two different time zones. Thankfully he let Renee play the final statement of the theme alone. I’ve never found Ray to be the greatest soloist, but he is one top notch accompanist.
They ended with a blues (initially I thought it was by McCoy Tyner, then I thought it was “Shaky Jake” by Cedar Walton – but it’s not. See below and let me know) and Renee thanked the audience for being so attentive – I will say this was the case. At no time did I hear whispering, there were no cash registers, no clinking glasses, no waitresses hassling you for the minimum (they even had free coffee). Everyone was there for the music and while not all knew *exactly* who Renee was (remember, it’s Reenie – short for Irene, not the tres French “Walk Away, Renee”), they were very appreciative and showed it. On several occasions there was not even any distracting applause after solos. People were focused on the music, rather than the “event.” And it was good.
For Musicians Only – tell me the title of this tune
F7 Gb7 | F7 Gb7 | F7 Gb7 | F7 Gb7
Bb7 B7 | Bb7 B7 | F7 Gb7 | F7 Gb7
C7 | Bb7 | F7 | F7
These are the melody changes and the chords are in “Charleston” style stop time. The melody itself is a very pianistic bluesy thing that is a pickup into each bar – starting after beat 3 each time and descending in triplets through the minor pentatonic (blues) scale.
i.e. – sort of like this, but a little more decorated
B Bb Ab F Ab || F
The last four bars start:
r C C C r C C Bb | r Bb Bb Bb r | – in eighths
I know I’ve heard it and somewhere I own it. Probably a 1960s Blue Note thing or something. [The answer is “Bleecker Street Theme” by Cedar Walton. Thanks to Reg Schwager.]