Dawn Clement Trio
Dawn Clement – piano, voice
Geoff Harper – bass
D’Vonne Lewis – drums

Anat Cohen Quartet
Anat Cohen – clarinet, tenor saxophone
Gilad Hekselman – guitar
Joe Martin – bass
Marcello Pellitteri – drums

Thursday, October 25, 2007
PONCHO Concert Hall
Cornish College of the Arts
Earshot Jazz Festival

The PONCHO Concert Hall was very close to sold-out for this concert. As part of his introduction, Earshot Jazz Executive Director John Gilbreath mentioned the unusual and appreciated pre-concert publicity in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Dawn Clement opened her segment of the program solo with a uniquely structured piano-vocal interpretation of the standard “All of Me.” A traditional hymn served as the piece’s intro in a pensive, fragile and seamless blend. She sings with excellent enunciation and distinctive phrasing although she really doesn’t have a lot of strength in her voice. There’s certainly plenty of emotion though. Billie Holiday – for one – didn’t have a great natural instrument either. It’s about communication and feeling not about chops. This low-key performance was marred a little by the snare on the drum-kit rattling a bit, but that was only a minor annoyance.

photo by Daniel Sheehan, eyeshotphotos.com

She spoke briefly about her recent busy schedule in the recording studio. New CDs with soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom, a trio (Matt Wilson and Martin Wind) and another – her second – with Seattle area jazz icon Julian Priester are ready to be released soon.

An original piece, “Deeply Seeded,” began solo, then Harper and Lewis joined her onstage. The solo intro was relatively long and rhapsodically textured. Then a samba feel established itself, leaning a bit in the direction of Tropicalia as it progressed, with a surging, rhythmically inventive piano solo.

She sounds like no one but herself. Nearly every currently active jazz pianist can usually be compared to a handful of major contemporary influences: Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, et al. Not so with Clement. She is a true original. It’s really hard to put one’s finger on why she sounds so original. Part of it is attitude: the pure, sunny, positive emotions that emanate from her as she plays. She is a joy to watch as well as a joy to hear. The broad smiles, raised eyebrows and wide-open eyes looks she gives the other musicians, the mouthing along as she pulls off a particularly multi-faceted run or arpeggio, the expressive body language, all show an overt elation in music making that is inspirational both to her associates and to the audience. Dressed simply but elegantly, she played barefooted, a very direct connection to the instrument. She is an artist who truly seems one with the instrument. It’s not a tool or a machine but rather a partner in a dance.

There’s plenty of space in her improvisations and in the pieces she writes. It’s music that breathes. Each note and chord seems right. There’s never a sense of hurry or virtuosity for its own sake. She certainly has prodigious technique but never flaunts it. The melodies are rich and sometimes rather involved but they always sing. As an accompanist there’s a coiled-spring energy in her playing that really lifts a soloist; this was particularly evident during Harper’s bass solo here. Although never rising above mezzoforte, her interjections and chordal comments were driving and exhilarating.

After playing the next composition, “Under the Radar,” she said “I’ll give my husband props for coming up with the title.” There was a fractured, off-kilter, dissonant arco bass introduction, then Lewis joined in, laying down busy cross-rhythms played very quickly indeed with soft mallets, mainly on the toms. After switching to sticks he took an energetic drum solo that segued to a piano solo. This was a brilliant solo that gradually built the dynamics to a fever pitch climbing to fortissimo with a stunningly articulated series of graceful steps up the harmonic ladder. Then the dynamics came way down for a pondering pizzicato bass solo with brushes gently simmering. As the solo unwound, the piano accompaniment was again notable. She has a knack for perfectly placed cat and mouse rhythmic accents, often just slightly off-center, a bit in front of or a bit behind the pulse.

At some point during this piece it morphed into the Miles Davis tune “Nardis”. There was a fascinating series of dialogues meshing with three-way conversations, like three friends having an animated discussion at the dinner table and finishing each others sentences.

In her introduction to Duke Ellington’s “Heaven” from the Second Sacred Concert she asked if anyone in the audience knew of Alice Babs. Silence. With a smile, Geoff Harper said “…ask us another question.” Then she explained that Babs was the singer on the Ellington recording of that sacred concert and recommended it as a great one to search out. This was another vocal piece, subtle and elegant, Clement’s girlish soprano fitting the context well.

The trio closed with an uncredited medium up-tempo tune with something of a funk meets soul feeling a la Les McCann: fun, swinging and deep in the groove.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable set and the audience was warmly appreciative.

The Anat Cohen Quartet began with Fats Waller’s classic “Jitterbug Waltz.” Her interpretation certainly brought new dimensions to the title. Not only could one probably jitterbug to it, there was a distinct possibility that one could improvise some pretty wild free-form dance curlicues as well. It was still sort of a waltz in ¾ but with so many polyrhythms overlaid that occasionally it seemed to be in three or four time signatures simultaneously. Cohen is an expressive, passionate and technically accomplished clarinetist with a liquid tone and beautiful control. Her high notes are bell-like and perfectly rounded and her chalumeau register is as rich yet airy as a gourmet chocolate mousse. Gilad Hekselman’s guitar solo had an electric Djangoesque Gypsy tinge that both swung and swayed in a mellifluous hollow-bodied timbre. Joe Martin’s bass solo was delightfully accompanied by Marcello Pellitteri, laying down complex and infectious patterns with his sticks on mounted Gankogui bells. Thomas Waller would have loved the good humor and musical legerdemain of this performance.

photo by Daniel Sheehan, eyeshotphotos.com

A Cohen original, “The Purple Piece,” was next. This also was in ¾ and remained in a more waltz-like form than the preceding piece. It began introspectively and steadily built both in emotional intensity and dynamic level. It was truly a royal purple by mid-point. The dynamics came down for a fluid, melodic guitar solo that had portions in double-time. As the dynamic level came back up Cohen’s clarinet work was absolutely brilliant, deeply emotional, way up, then a touch of humor and way down to end. Beautiful.

“Let’s go to Brazil” was an appealing idea offered metaphorically in the introduction to the next piece, Egberto Gismonti’s “Frevo.” Cohen was on tenor saxophone for this rhythmically charged performance. Hekselman had a very soft, subtle but up-tempo guitar solo that soared, propelled by a potent bass vamp and some great work from Pellitteri on a very small, resonant drum mounted on his kit that looked a little like (but wasn’t) a pandeiro. Cohen’s boiling tenor solo showcased her superb range, including a booting lower register and often unusual phrasing, influenced not only by Brazilian music but seemingly – to these ears anyway – by Rahsaan Roland Kirk. There was a drum solo that had some tasty work on the hi-hat but got a little verbose and didn’t keep the tropical feeling going. There was a floating, laughing feeling to Cohen’s tenor in the closing ensembles. All in all it was a lively and engaging performance.

She returned to clarinet for Denzil Best’s jazz standard “Move” (or “Moveacito” as she jokingly referred to the band’s Latinization of the tune.) A wonderful clarinet-guitar duo opened, again very gentle and subtle but packed with rhythmic intensity. Parallels might be drawn with the classic collaborations between Jimmy Giuffre and Jim Hall with the heat turned up a notch or two. There was particularly lovely playing in the chalumeau register here, then some volcanic trades after a guitar solo, bringing Bird, bop and Brazil all together. This was a galvanizing and colorful performance.

For their final piece, Ornette Coleman’s “blues in C” titled “Turnaround,” Cohen invited Clement onstage. This was unplanned. There were no mikes left on the piano, but that was no problem at all, it sounded fine. Cohen and Clement have known each other for a decade, participating in the 1998 IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) convention in New York City as part of the Sisters in Jazz program. Back on tenor, Cohen was both bluesy and happy, a sunny ambiance coexisting with a kind of JATP wail worthy of the likes of Illinois Jacquet or Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis. Clement took a fine piano solo that was probing, thoughtful and full of interesting rhythmic suspensions. There also was a hot guitar solo with an up-tempo portion that really took off and a sweet bass solo propelled by soft red brushes on skin. A series of trading fours took it out with rock-solid work from Martin – you could always hear the theme. Hugs and big smiles were the order of the day and a well-deserved standing ovation.

Earshot Jazz Festival, Review, Seattle Jazz