Friday, March 14, 2008

Concert Review
All Keys Concert
Piano Department Faculty Concert March 6, 2008
Berklee College of Music Performance Center
Pianists: Stephanie Tiernan, Joanne Brackeen, Francesca Tanksley, John Mulroy, John Arcaro, Jeff Covell, Bob Winter, Carmen Staaf, Bruce Thomas, Robert Christopherson, Tony Germain, Greg Wardson, Laslo Gardony, David Limina, Matt Jenson, Rebecca Cline, Leo Blanco.

It is amazing that one school can boast this many piano faculty. Berklee, in addition to being a jazz and pop-music school advertises that it also has a classical piano department. I don't know whether any of this list of faculty teaches classical or not. I can tell you that several of this list probably teach and perform in the pop area rather than jazz. It was a long concert and I did not stay to the bitter end as some of the later performing artists were touted as playing other keyboards in the concert, including those belonging to a laptop. There was also a great deal of non-acoustic hardware on the stage and since I heard all but the last 3 faculty listed and had not heard that extra hardware I counted myself as being lucky and left as I didn't want to press my luck.

It was a pleasurable surprise to see Joanne Brackeen's name as faculty. I have always loved her playing and have most of her trio albums. She played a duet with Stephanie Tiernan entitled "Moon Out," a massive reworking of the tune "Moonglow." The initial stride treatment became a point of departure for Joanne and Stephanie to take the audience by the hand, taking them "where no man has gone before" to paraphrase the opening title of the old TV series, "Star Trek." The gals were dressed in turn-of-the-century outfits. I don't think there was an ostrich feather left in Boston as their costumes used them all.

Francesca Tanksley did a trio version of "Nardis" with able assistance by members of the drums and bass faculties. She played quite nicely if exuberantly. She swapped 8's, 4's, 2's and tried to do 1's as Bill's later trio did. It's difficult to get things coordinated with a drummer and bassist you don't work with all the time, on a very reverberant stage, and with a decidedly non-jazz sound reinforcement crew but they did pretty well. I want to hear more of Francesca.

Next came Jeff Covell with guest Jim Cameron on tenor. Jeff tinkled on the piano for intro then launched into a sort of medium swing ostinato outlining a D minor to Eb 7 tonality - riff , reminiscent of Stan Kenton's "Intermission Riff." The tune turned out to be "Alone together." He used the same idea each time for the first 8. It was interesting and but got to sound a little cumbersome when played repeatedly. Jeff chose to play a lot of left hand bass lines. When piano players do this I'm reminded of an old friend's philosophy who's also a jazz pianist. When I worked with him as a duo, bass and piano, he would admonish me not to play in four. He said if you do that, the audience starts missing the drummer. When Jeff played so many walking left hand bass notes I missed the bass player in the group.

John Mulroy came on the stage by himself which was a welcome relief since this was a piano faculty concert and I wanted to hear the individual pianist's stuff. Mulroy's tune was an original called "Coin Toss," at times following a complex chord progression, perhaps with descending seventh chords, alternating with what was almost a blues. Mulroy was the first solo pianist to really makes use of a polite touch on the instrument and it was a pure pleasure to listen to. The tune sort of skittered between different tonalities, never over-bearing and always intriguing to the ear. I must get a lead sheet of that tune - which is probably the most sincere complement I can pay to the performer.

Next came John Arcaro for a solo piano tune. From his first few notes I could tell that he, like Mulroy, knew what the word touch meant regarding the piano. John played the great standard, "I Should Care" in a beautiful solo piano treatment, not unlike Bill Evans might have played, playing a variety of chord voicing, chord substitutions, and always varying the texture of the setting. His playing and insight into the tune, and the instrument was a continual pleasure from beginning to end. He also used a modulation scheme that Bill Evans might have played, starting in the key of C, moving to Eb after a few choruses, brightening things up considerably with a move to F then bringing it all back home to C again. Of all the pianists I heard that night I made it a point to find out more about him, where he is playing, and looking for a situation where I might get the opportunity to sit in with him.

Another two piano team played next, Bob Winter and Carmen Staaf. I can see where some of the faculty helped the long concert along by teaming up. These guys were delightful, playing the perennial favorite "Willow Weep For Me," first in a straight ahead style, then in an exciting Latino version where pianist Staff really shined. Winter's playing was the glue that help contain the powerful Staff's playing and made for a beautiful "sturm und drang" type of presentation.

Next the announcer, John Limina, (whom we heard later on the updated Hammond B3 organ) announced that the next tune was in tribute to NYC pianist Fred Hersch who was "very ill" and that pianist/faculty member Bruce Thomas would play Fred's composition "Ballad." Bruce played it tenderly and musically. I immediately emailed Fred when I got home and inquired about his illness. He responded with a return email the next morning stating that he had been very sick but he is fine now, good news for those of us who love his music.

Bob Christopherson followed with an original composition, "Natural Evolution" on solo piano. Bob also demonstrated a nice sense of touch. the music was interesting, tonal, with a nice sense of harmony but my immediate thought was that Bob's playing was plasma in search of some sort of bottle to pour it in to. The music was fine but just needed some form to go along with it.

A two piano version of "Softly As A Morning Sunrise" followed, played by Tony Germain and Greg Wardson. It was interesting in spots but seemed to go one or two choruses too many. The playing was a little too energetic for me and I detected no identifiable sections where one player soloed and the other accompanied, which is and absolute must in this type of format.

Next came pianist Laszlo Gordony who played something he called "In Transit" which appropriately was a signal to me that I had better be in transit out of there. The announcer, Limina, started a tribute to Chicago organ trio style of blues/jazz playing as I made my exit. Things were getting a little loud and commercial sounding for my taste so it was a good time to leave.

I look forward to more concerts at Berklee. My apologies to Matt Jenson, Rebecca Cline, and Leo Blanco - I hope to hear you play on another occasion. There is an upcoming tribute concert to recently deceased Herb Pomeroy on April 1st. Herb is the only jazzer that I know of who has a scale named after him.


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