Monday, October 24, 2011

Cory Weeds / Mike LeDonne Quartet - Blue Horse Gallery - Monday, October 24, 2011

Cory Weeds & Mike LeDonne Quartet - Blue Horse Gallery

Cory Weeds / Mike LeDonne Quartet – Blue Horse Gallery

Monday, October 24, 2011

Perfectly Hank: The Music of Hank Mobley – Cory Weeds, saxophone. Mike LeDonne, Hammond B3. Oliver Gannon, Guitar. Jesse Cahill, Drums.

The tour is a celebration, an encomium, of the music of Hank Mobley. Mobley (1930 – 1986) was a hard-bop tenor saxophonist and composer who has been called "one of the more underrated musicians of the bop era." Mobley was known for his controlled and even “round” sound that emphasized cool subtlety over hot intensity.

I was here at the strong recommendation of Julian MacDonough, who said this was a show “not to be missed.” Julian was responsible, in part, in getting this tour to make a stop at The Blue Horse Gallery. I arrived early and was able to get close to the stage to take a look at the beautiful worn and sweetly fragrant Hammond B3 and the Leslie Speaker, with its signature Doppler effect. They both brought to mind precious objects from a bygone age, automaton music boxes, cabinets of curiosity, and German Wunderkammer. The Hammond was covered with autographs, giving it an extra layer of authenticity.

I found a seat in the substantially crowded room, which is fairly charged up with anticipation for a great night of Jazz. Mike LeDonne is known as a virtuoso on the Hammond B3, having played for years in New York with Milt Jackson’s Quartet. Cory Weeds is a jazz impresario who runs the renowned Cellar Jazz club in Vancouver. After a brief technical delay, the night started off with the song “Perfectly Hank” by Mike. The Hammond came on beautifully, seeming to hover around the backbeat with a lazy perfection. That sound with the Leslie, there is no denying, is just the essence of cool. Immediate associations with “Whiter Shade of Pale” to Booker T’s “Green Onions” and Tom Waits’ Heartattack and Vine. And, of course, jazz organists Jimmy Smith, Sonny Philips and Freddy Roach. LeDonne is just stunning, hands rifling over the keys of the Hammond like the gears of a carousel calliope, weaving in and out of the melody into surreal combinations of notes: giraffes emerging out of the surf on bloody half-shells, then back into the groove, surreal associations at the core of jazz, the eternal return to the melody and then the burst of self-assertion like a new star in the sky. Cory Weeds picks right from where LeDonne leaves off, echoing, amplifying and subtly commenting on LeDonne, branching off like a fractal, returning to the center. Oliver Gannon accents it all with elegance and Jesse Cahill is rock solid. There is a presence, and awareness, in the room of music being played with exceptional grace and skill.

The next piece starts off like freight train chugging rhythm, sax climbing up melodic scales, then the round modulated tones of the lead guitar, everything laying down the blanket rug for the organ, those undersea tones. LeDonne hitting the keys with a delicate, almost anticipatory phrasing reminiscent of Oscar Peterson. I half expect to hear the distinctive Peterson vocal grunts at the ends of the runs. Next piece is slowed down, brushes on the skins, breathy breaks, a sublime smoky sax solo by Weeds. This is the moment where the band really shines together, polished sound, easing the mind on the major notes that just tumble out of the stage like cows over the moon, fish over a waterfall, life becomes a surreal musical, everything with big eyes and smiles, archetypes of the American dream, hearkening back to the romance of some never was ever there time between 1939 and 1941. Hank Mobley's “A Dab of This and That” is a stand-out of the first set. Sharp organ rhythms that evoke the funk of Lee Morgan’s  Cornbread. Completely cornbread, blue light cooled down jazz funk with the Hammond organ cries and screams over the fat guitar riffs.

The second set comes on fresh with more intensity, fire bursting out of the kindling, red hot, fast, white heat, solo breaks sparkling and loose. Cory Weeds breathes out the very soul of the sound on the sax, notes trembling under controlled pressure. And then there is a Mike LeDonne solo breaking off into soft ivory notes that morphs into digital fragments that roll against each other inside the Leslie like debris from a beautiful wreck of music, the abandonment of structure that marks out the territory of jazz in the 20th century. This is followed by a beautiful ballad-type piece. Organ pumping. The slow undersea pumps and breaths of the Hammond before it kicks into the groove, Cahill lays perfect brushes on the snare, subtle guitar-work by Gannon, long sustained chords of the guitar bleeding into killer organ riffs, monumental heavy sounds like a cathedral springing up in your brain. Solid block beauty. Cory steps out while Mike LeDonne works on some kind of perfection.
The Blue Horse is soaking in all of the beautiful strange sound, muted tones, rounded corners of the sound. Imagine a jazz club from the 50s that you always wanted to hang out in. And although it seems to be in the most unlikely of spaces, the Blue Horse is starting to resonate with the dark and difficult spirit of jazz. Whatever that is. But it is good.

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