Trio Of New York w/Oliver Lake
Houston TX, 24 January 2000
you couple stellar jazz musicians and an exceptional venue, the likelihood
of an outstanding performance is enhanced. At the prestigious Menil
Collection, a Houston gallery housing an abundance of art from antiquity,
the Byzantine world, tribal cultures, and the twentieth century, Oliver
Lake joined the String Trio of New York in providing a classically
schooled audience with an opportunity to hear what the creative music
world is all about. Presented by Da Camera of Houston, an organization
that mainly sponsors classical programs but dabbles in the fringe
world of jazz, the concert showcased the master alto player Lake interacting
with the sometimes precise, sometimes groovy String Trio comprised
of bassist John Lindberg, guitarist James Emery, and violinist Diane
Monroe. The String Trio has been a pet project for Lindberg and Emery
since its initial venture into chamber jazz in 1977. The concept has
had longevity even though the violin position has changed from original
member Billy Bang through Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Mark Feldman,
and now Monroe, who has made her presence known as first violinist
with Maxine Roach's Uptown String Quartet. Each violinist has approached
his or her role in the String Trio differently while integrating with
the concepts of Lindberg and Emery, yet the results have always been
unique and the music quality excellent. This version is no exception.
String Trio opened the program with a Monroe composition that contained
African rhythm influences and the solid beat to allow the group to
loosen up the audience. Monroe is a sensitive violinist who shuns
flashiness to concentrate on driving, energetic music. She is melodic
yet free, unassumingly adding depth and quality to the trio's output.
The group continued with a Lindberg piece that was near classical
in construction with multiple movements, yet it always reverted to
the strong theme statement. Lindberg is a complex composer and an
even more complex bass player whose tones resonate with deep feeling.
Monroe soloed in spirited fashion while Emery displayed his substantial
talent for delivering sparkling rhythm or robust improvisation. Enter
Lake, looking solemn and priestly in all-black attire. The four moved
gently into a space-filled composition with Lake spieling out his
recognizable staccato blasts in the high register while the String
Trio advanced the tune from its classical structure to one with down
home roots. Lake and Lindberg engaged in a duet that found the bassist
soloing off the theme by wielding guitar-like strums, while Lake kept
the spirits rising with robust playing on the curved soprano. Da Camera
Artistic Director and classical pianist Sarah Rothenberg then joined
Lake in another duet of structured/unstructured music. Lake used his
fluttering blowing technique along with key clicking to soar above
the Ravel movement while Rothenberg played interruptive and totally
the intermission, the String Trio returned to do two memorable selections.
Mingus'"Pithecanthropus Erectus", with all the dynamics inherent in
the tune's structure, was a perfect vehicle for Emery to break out
with swinging, singing strings. They followed with an absolutely gorgeous
version of Duke Ellington's infrequently played "Heaven". Lindberg
showed both strength and sensitivity on the hush-toned ballad. Lake
rejoined the party, playing the curved soprano again in duet with
Emery, producing high-pitched interaction. All performers joined in
on the finale on Emery's "Standing on a Whale Fishing for Minnows".
Broken lines and uneven rhythms marked the song that rose to collective
cacophony to end the program.
The immense and highly visible modern art abstraction by Robert Rauschenberg
was a fitting backdrop for this concert of tangible and abstract music.
Lake and the String Trio excelled at their craft, and the classical
artist Rothenberg found a common ground for participation. Together
they formed a bond of music pleasing to all.