The recently re-named Carnegie-Farian Room of the Nyack Library is a jewel of a performance space, with its aged wood and stone turn of the century interior finishes. The space becomes as much a part of the performance as do the players who grace its stage, burnishing the tones of the music played there.
The Rockland Jazz and Blues Society and its President Richard Sussman, in conjunction with the Library's Musical director Yashar Yaslowitz, have been putting on spectacular shows in this one hundred seat venue for several years. Friday night's intimate duet, featuring the saxophone colossal Joe Lovano and the splendid piano virtuoso Kenny Werner, set a new high water mark for the series.
The sold out crowd was peppered with musicians and cognoscenti. They all came to hear these two masters play in the living room setting that makes the Carnegie Room so special and intimate.
Joe Lovano at Nyack Library /photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2013
Mr. Lovano is a big, burly man, bearded and jovial with a personality that emanates warmth. His predominant instrument is the tenor saxophone and he dominates his horn with a virtuosity and authority that few other present day players possess. His often brilliant improvisations are filled with nuance. He can create fleet, Coltrane-like, sheets of notes or he can hover between the notes, sustaining them, suspending them midair like a hawk floating in the thermals. His tone has a resonant timbre that lies somewhere between the sound of his predecessors Lester Young and Stan Getz. Forever the curious musician, he constantly challenges himself, frequently appearing as a sought after sideman or as the leader of his own ensembles.
Mr. Werner is a brilliant pianist, a well-regarded writer and a marvelous composer. His piano technique has classical elements, undoubtedly a product of his time with Berklee's renowned piano teacher Madame Chaloff. He combines a healthy sense of the blues, with an adept ability to interject elements of romanticism into his probing free improvisations. He was a Guggenheim fellow in 2010 and has accompanied many famous musicians and leads his own groups.
Mr. Lovano and Mr. Werner have a long history. Their familiarity with each other was apparent, especially on the freer pieces like the opening number, a Paul Motion composition titled "Conception Vessel." The piece was like a dance through an enchanted forest led by tree sprites. The sprites, Mr. Lovano, on his beautiful, Peter Jessens, custom G mezzo soprano saxophone, trading inquisitive lines with Mr. Werner's delicate and sprightly piano musings. If you closed your eyes you could be transported to their hidden realm, suspending reality for a moment.
Joe Lovano on G Mezzo Soprano Saxophone
Lovano played his tenor on the second song of the set, Mr. Werner's composition "One." The laddered piece was a perfect vehicle of conversation between these two intuitive compatriots. Mr. Werner offered a beautifully rambling solo which was countered by Mr. Lovano using a more searching sound. There is no map to where Mr. Lovano will lead you with his solos. He can burst forward with excitement, meander a bit in places, yank you by the collar pulling you into the abyss, embracing you ,enveloping you in a blanket of his warm sound, and you go along willingly, all to experience the magic of the moment.
Mr. Lovano took to the drums on another free piece "Journey Within," which is from Cross Culture, the latest album from Mr. Lovano and his group Us Five. Mr. Werner's whimsical piano was accentuated by Lovano's sporadic use of brushes and splashy use of cymbals. Mr. Lovano loves drums and in his Us Five Group he utilizes two drummers to great rhythmic effect. Mr. Lovano returns with his soprano, trading ideas with Mr. Werner in a playful exchange.
Mr. Lovano's last piece of the first set was his composition "Weatherman," dedicated to the saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who turns eighty this year. Joe's bellowing tenor ran through fluid lines, in the spirit of the elder master. Mr. Werner offered a deft accompaniment, his perky enthusiasm spilling out occasionally with audible refrains of Ah! when he liked what he heard. Mr. Lovano returned to the drum kit, keeping expert time, using a predominantly splashy sound accented by the occasional snap of the snare. With a steady rhythmic drive provided by Lovano, Werner was able to let free and offered a stirringly sensitive solo as Mr. Lovano nodding approval looked on admiringly.
After a brief intermission, the second set started off with Mr. Lovano, this time appropriately on drums for another Paul Motian tune "Drum Music." The piece was bombastic and punctuated with a repeating line, a theme that Mr. Werner would use as the basis for his own explorations, a free improvisational romp. Mr. Lovano's drums didn't keep discernible time so much as to provide accent.
Mr. Werner's composition "Five" was a slow sensitive ballad, with Mr. Lovano playing on his warm, full-bodied tenor with a poignant, beautiful lyricism. Mr. Werner was equally emotive, as he sat hunched over the black Yamaha grand, deep into the music, caressing the keys with his delicate, feather-like touch. These two musicians were absorbing each others ideas in mutually emphatic communion.
The program continued to thrill, as the two played Billy Strayhorn's "Star Crossed Lovers," a song identifiable to most of the crowd. Mr. Werner created a short intro to the classic, leading to Mr. Lovano stating the melody on tenor. Joe can bring great depth of feeling to his ballad work, a combination of technique and warmth of tone that lulls you into a blissful state. Mr. Werner created romantic cascades of sound on his piano, with delicate flourishes that were especially effective on this poignant ballad.
A Werner composition, "Go There and Roam", was another chance for Mr. Lovano to play lyrically. With a cinematic-like theme, Lovano and Werner made this a high light of the evening. Together they wove a tapestry of sound that elicited a feeling of being transported to an unfamiliar albeit melancholic place. Joe, as percussionist, took up a grouping of netted shook that he used in rhythmic support as Kenny dug deep into the song. The crowd was understandably mesmerized.
Kenny Werner and Joe Lovano /photo by Ralph A. Miriello c 2013
Mr. Lovano ended the set with his own lilting "Streets of Naples." with its' Latinized beat and a catchy melody. Joe's tenor sounding in the same spirit and with a similar gait to the way Sonny Rollins played on his famous ode to "St. Thomas." Mr. Werner's solo was particularly lively giving the tune a beautiful, care free feel. The two artists darted in and out of each other's ideas in a marvelous display of spontaneously developed musical choreography.
The encore, a Werner composition titled "Ballad for Trane," is a dedication to John Coltrane that Mr. Werner said came to him in a dream and practically wrote itself. Mr. Lovano can channel Coltrane at will, as he has proven on such recent albums as Steve Kuhn's Mostly Coltrane album from 2009.
He can produce a searching sound, the distinctively yearning sound of someone who is seeking out a higher truth through his music.
The performance was an unqualified success and a very special evening for all those who attended. Fortunately it was recorded on video by the Library and you can find it here.