by Darryl Kniffen.
Darryl Kniffen is a public school music teacher, freelance drummer/percussionist, and composer. He has a bachelor's of music in music education from Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam and will graduate with a master's of music in music education from Crane in 2014. He resides in Wilmington, VT.
"We like to make a joyful noise" exclaimed Steve Wilson, saxophone extraordinaire, at the Vermont Jazz Center last Saturday night. Drumming great Lewis Nash, alto and soprano saxophonist Steve Wilson, and special guest, jazz great Nat Reeves on upright bass made such a joyful noise Saturday night that it can still be heard echoing off the walls of the Vermont Jazz Center. The group captivated the audience with their brilliant musical dialogue. At times the ensemble played intimate, soft and sentimental. At times they were explosive and frenetic. The group beautifully explored the full range of emotions. The ensemble's interplay and connection on stage was so brilliant that it was hard to believe they were not all somehow one "superhuman" playing all three instruments simultaneously. During the duo tunes, Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson daringly slashed their way through uncharted musical territory. In the midst of explosive chaos, these pioneers would arrive at familiar ground and play wonderfully complex rhythms in unison. Nat Reeves provided the group with a soulful, rich bottom and was a tremendous treat for all.
Lewis Nash and Steve Wilson began the evening as a duo with a wonderful spectacle of rhythmic and melodic interplay on a gliding version of "Jitter Bug Waltz" by Fats Waller. Nash and Wilson's musical conversation knew no bounds. Nash's facility on the drum set is unmatched. Homage to the drumming greats can be heard in his melodic soloing, impeccable brush technique, and rudiment-oriented fills. His playing encompasses the whole history of jazz drumming while paving a path of innovation. Nash's drum solos were as visually engaging as they were aurally. He executed crossover patterns on the cymbals and toms that were truly dazzling. Nash also intrigued the audience by exploiting every sound his drum set could possibly make. He played bell-tone melodies on the sides of his cymbals. He rubbed his sticks together while pressing one into the snare head. He would flick the toms and lay down driving Afro-Cuban rhythms on the rims of the set.
Nash's rhythmic precision and creativity was the perfect fit for Wilson's adventurous and soulful playing. Wilson took the audience on a wild melodic rollercoaster throughout the night. His ideas were an exquisite blend of passion and flawless technique. Wilson's wild flourishes up and down the instrument were dazzling and tastefully balanced with classic bebop and blues lines.
Nat Reeves opened the second tune of the evening with a wonderfully eerie bass solo in a minor tonality. Reeves' clarity and elegance were a true treat. His rich, warm tone filled the room and captivated the crowd. The trio ventured into the blues for their third number, and Nash scatted a jaw dropping solo while simultaneously swinging the kit. He effortlessly vocalized "bird-like" double time licks over his smooth half time brush playing. Towards the end of the tune, Nash hilariously explored nonsense syllables like "heep hip hoop hop, hippity hippity heep heep" for an extended period of time.
Other highlights of the evening include a medley of Thelonious Monk music comprised of the tunes "Bright Mississippi," "Ask Me Now," and "Evidence." Nash's playing of the melody was quite impressive, especially when he used space and solely played the rhythm of the tune with sparse hits and cymbal chokes around the kit. The ensemble also explored the music of Duke Ellington with renditions of "The Mooche" and a smoking version of "Caravan." It was truly an honor to watch three of the biggest names in jazz perform Saturday night at Brattleboro's, Vermont Jazz Center. Their "joyful noise" will have a lasting impact on all who were lucky enough to attend.