Pianist Ted Rosenthal, accompanied by bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Joe Chambers, played Chapin Hall Thursday. His two-hour set included both his own compositions as well as some by Thelonious Monk. Opening with Monk, Rosenthal approached the beautifully jagged chords and melodies with wit, enthusiasm and precision. His playing unfolded a keen intellect, as the music proceeded in a clear fashion. In the best parts of the performance, Rosenthal used his wit to keep the audience’s interest. Unfortunately, when the wit lapsed, the musical result was often not so pleasing. Rosenthal is capable of playing poignantly and contemplatively, and yet at times, especially in his musical expositions, his playing failed to reach beauty beyond superficial prettiness. Despite these lapses, Rosenthal’s humor and profundity, when he could find them, led to an enjoyable performance.
Accompanists Reggie Workman, who has played with jazz legend John Coltrane, and Joe Chambers functioned as more than a support for Rosenthal. They worked as separate yet complimentary voices making distinct and important contributions. Workman’s bass provided rhythmic variations and counter-melodies in a call and answer format. Workman expanded every part of the pieces he touched. I often found myself paying more attention to what Workman was doing than to Rosenthal’s work on the piano. Workman’s solos pushed the limits of every piece he played. However, without fail, he would return to the middle ground of the song in order to offer a stimulating ride between the solos.
Similarly, Chambers created atmosphere with rhythms that leapt from one beat to another with an understated skill. Playing with musicality and taste, but not without presence or intensity, his solos highlighted the full atmosphere that his rhythms created throughout. And so, with this fine concert JazzTown ’99 began.
The music festival ended Sunday afternoon with the performance of two bands that featured Williams Alumni. The first to play was the Bruce Williamson Duo with Williamson on bass clarinet, flute, alto sax and soprano sax and Art Lande ’69 on piano. Williamson and Lande played melodically attractive pieces during which their musical talents complimented each other well.
Simple and smooth, the Duo’s melodies were not saccharine. Both musicians played well and with precision, but it was Williamson who was able to pull fiery energy from the elegant lines of melody. Lande played beautifully but seldom with such intensity. Often Williamson and Lande utilized slightly discordant or atonal rhythmic complications to give their music interesting textures of sound.
The Joe Mulholland Sextet played the final pieces of JazzFest. The sextet included Ken Cervenica on trumpet, Jeff Galindo on trombone, Allan Chase on alto saxophone, Bob Wiefice on bass and Rob Tamagisi on drums; Mulholland ’74 led the group on the piano. The sextet played solid, enjoyable jazz. There weren’t many fireworks, twists or surprises, but attending the concert was a pleasant way to spend an hour nonetheless.
Each song followed a pattern: statement by the band, series of solos off of original statement and then a restatement of the theme as a conclusion. The solos were all pleasing. The rhythm section kept the groove, and the musicians were in synch. Finally, in its last two songs the sextet increased its intensity. With greater energy in both the group and individual performances, the concert became even more enjoyable.
It has been a good few days in Williamstown. Although the bands led by Rosenthal, Williamson and Mulholland may not have been the weekend’s main attraction, they were all worthy and talented additions to the JazzFest lineup.