Rick Savage Jazz 4tet: Warwick, NY
August 22, 2011
The opening set of trumpeter/flugelhornist Rick Savage's Jazz 4tet was a witty, civilized conversation between longtime colleagues, all of whom had something essential to say and respected one anothers' space. As part of the last day of the second annual Warwick Valley Jazz Festival, the music took place in the community center of Warwick Grove, an upscale village of condos, townhouses, and single family houses. Though the repertoire of the performance's first half was familiar (Cole Porter's "I Love You," Miles Davis's "Freddie Freeloader," and Sonny Rollins's "Oleo"), Savage and his cohorts distinguished themselves from the legions of musicians mining similar territory by means of their superior skills and an apparent desire to work together for the common good. It was refreshing to hear a group generate considerable heat without resorting to excessive volume, dense, cluttered textures, or individual heroics. And Savage's affable, considerate stage demeanorearly on, he asked if the piano could be heard clearly in the sound mixmade a positive impression on the capacity crowd.
The rhythm section of pianist Zen Zadravec, bassist David Kingsnorth, and Eliot Zigmund's drums and cymbals was especially imposing on "Freddie Freeloader," laying down a medium tempo jazz groove that felt good and never wore out its welcome. Every beat was clearly defined and connected to the next one. Ostensibly simple, easygoing swing is rarely played with such commitment and focus.
Working in a manner which rewarded both aficionados and casual listeners, Savage's bop-oriented solos contained echoes of earlier jazz styles. Leaving enough room for Zadravec to answer some of his phrases, the trumpeter's choruses on "I Love You" displayed a crackling tone and a steady current of ideas. The same judicious use of space was apparent during "Freddie Freeloader," as he eased his way through a couple of choruses, and then became louder and edgier. The rhythm section reacted in kind, Savage reached a climax, and then everyone tactfully brought the volume and intensity down to its original level.
In addition to offering incisive, tasteful commentary during solos from Savage, Kingsnorth, and Zigmund, Zadravec's improvisations were engaging and thought-provoking. During the course of "I Love You," he offered interesting variations of phrase lengths and changes in velocity, as well as interludes of firm unison chords. At the onset of "Oleo," the pianist was in no hurry to engage in Kingsnorth's and Zigmund's way-up tempo, preferring to spread out slight chordal hits and single note runs. An about face included extended lines that swung hard and stayed connected to the pulse.
The set's second half featured young vocalist Luci Yeghiazaryan. Making capital of the band's discerning accompaniment, Yeghiazaryan evinced a maturity beyond her years. The somewhat light timbre of her voice was complemented by impeccable diction and a genuine affinity for the lyrics of tunes from The Great American Songbook. Singing with a steely confidence, Yeghiazaryan conveyed the essence of each song, her take on "Born To Be Blue" striking a middle ground between detachment and excessive emotion. An effective interlude of scat led right back to the lyric of "Tea For Two," where she incorporated elements of Zadravec's razor sharp comping. Entering after the pianist's "Blame It On My Youth" solo, Yeghiazaryan's delivery of the lyric included brief cries, long, bent tones, and slight, telling changes in dynamics. Utterly locked into the band's supple pulse on "Change Partners And Dance," her phrasing took on a tight, somewhat clipped quality.
All in all, Savage's 4tet's ability to mesh as an ensemble, the high quality of the individual soloists, Yeghiazaryan's vocal stylings, plus a comfortable, hassle-free venue with a superior sound system, made for a memorable afternoon of jazz.