Sunday, March 09, 2008

Pat Metheny, Ben Allison, Gary Smulyan

When it comes to jazz-rooted guitarists,* I continue to listen to all kinds, with John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Bill Frisell, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Peter Bernstein and Russell Malone on my short list of favorites.

Still, I'd have to place Pat Metheny on the top of the list, when it comes to a six-stringer consistently performing at the highest levels of musicality, creativity and adventurousness.

And I like his credo, one he restated during our conversation in advance of a feature appearing in today's St. Petersburg Times: "My take is that jazz should be folk music, people music, from the realities of the time. The idea that jazz must be this or must be that - the history of jazz doesn't support that. Every one of my favorites comes from the time that they're in. That's an interesting kind of paradox. The jazz tradition means that you have to mess with it. There's a leap of there."

Tomorrow night, Metheny, prolific bassist Christian McBride and Pat Metheny Group drummer Antonio Sanchez are playing the historic Tampa Theatre, one of the area's best concert venues. the trio is touring in support of the just-released Day Trip album, recorded in October '05 and finally released this year. I'll be there, reviewing for a jazz mag.

*(This list necessarily excludes rock, blues and funk guitarists, many of which rank among my favorites. Lately, I've been reinvestigating the intriguing and forward-thinking work of Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood, heard on the Brit band's new In Rainbows CD and on the soundtrack of Paul Thomas Anderson's There Will Be Blood.)

Speaking of innovative string players, bassist Ben Allison's latest CD, Little Things Run the World, is one of this year's most compelling and imaginative CDs, both in terms of the compositions and the instrumental solo and ensemble work. My review of the disc recently appeared in Las Vegas City Life and not long ago I spoke with Allison for a forthcoming feature in Bass Player magazine.

Great jazz isn't always easy to find in the Tampa Bay area, so it's good news that the Tampa Jazz Club continues to present shows at the Gorilla Theater. Last Sunday, bari-sax monster Gary Smulyan played the club's series.

Smulyan was joined by top-notch local players -- bassist Mark Neuenschwander and drummer Tracy Alexander -- for a set of music, sans a chordal instrument, variously reminiscent of Gerry Mulligan's pianoless quartets and Sonny Rollins' trios (let's say the one with Elvin Jones and Wilbur Ware). Smulyan, who plays with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and bands variously led by Joe Lovano and Dave Holland, offered two sets of standards, including "Weaver of Dreans" and (I think) Rollins' "Oleo." Next Tampa Jazz Club show is set for April 20, with artists TBA.

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