Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Music review: Jazz bassist Parrott, trio show creativity, surprise in JAMS show

Jazz bassist and singer Nicki Parrott.
(Photo by Mary Jane Photography)

By Bill Meredith

Singing bassist Nicki Parrott’s trio walked on to the stage at the Harriet Himmel Theater in West Palm Beach on Tuesday while still getting used to dry land.

Parrott,‭ ‬Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello and drummer Ed Metz Jr.‭ ‬had just exited a Crystal Cruise line ship earlier in the day after playing a‭ ‬10-day jazz-themed sail from Fort Lauderdale to the Caribbean.

And while a few tentative early moments showed that the three were still getting their land legs under them,‭ ‬they soon righted the ship through creative arrangements of a few classics and more than a few surprises,‭ ‬all to the delight of the three-quarter capacity crowd.

‭“‬We’re going to play tunes from the American Songbook,‭”‬ Parrott said,‭ ‬tongue firmly planted in cheek,‭ “‬otherwise known as the Rod Stewart songbook.‭”

The humor of the Australia native,‭ ‬now based in Brooklyn,‭ ‬showed all night long.‭ ‬On Louis Jordan’s bluesy‭ ‬Is You Is Or Is You Ain't My Baby,‭ ‬she augmented her breathy,‭ ‬understated vocal delivery with snippets of scat-singing as Metz creatively played his snare drum with brushes,‭ ‬drumsticks,‭ ‬and even his hands.

Sportiello introduced an early highlight,‭ ‬Tommy Flanagan‭’‬s‭ ‬Beats Up,‭ ‬by playing a long,‭ ‬ragtime-influenced solo.‭ ‬Metz propelled the warp-speed piece with his rimshots and hummingbird breaks,‭ ‬and Parrott‭ ‬played a snippet of Mendelssohn‭’‬s‭ ‬Wedding March‭ ‬during her solo.

The bassist then downshifted by‭ ‬singing Consuelo Velazquez‭’‬s‭ ‬Besame Mucho,‭ ‬Irving Berlin‭’‬s‭ ‬White Christmas‭ (‬which she renamed‭ ‬Down Under Christmas,‭ ‬and infused with lyrics of Australian imagery‭)‬,‭ ‬and Adler and Ross‭’‬s‭ ‬Whatever Lola Wants,‭ ‬a tune from the musical‭ ‬Damn Yankees.

The best of the first set‭’‬s jazz standards was Cole Porter‭’‬s‭ ‬Let's Do It,‭ ‬Let‭’‬s Fall in Love‭ ‬which Parrott injected with her own humorous lyrics‭ (“‬Piano‭ ‬players who are Milanese do it,‭”‬ with a wink toward Sportiello,‭ ‬before she also mentioned Metz,‭ ‬the Tea Party,‭ ‬TSA agents,‭ ‬Lindsay Lohan,‭ ‬Batman,‭ ‬Mel Gibson,‭ ‬Tiger Woods,‭ ‬and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie‭)‬.

All of which led to the evening‭’‬s signature piece,‭ ‬a medley of Chopin melodies that Sportiello arranged for the trio.

‭“‬Imagine that Chopin gets caught in Harlem in‭ ‬1955,‭”‬ Parrott said.‭ ‬The three musicians then engaged in a dizzying chase that started with the pianist's introduction over a mid-tempo rhythm by Parrott and Metz.‭ ‬The drummer used brushes,‭ ‬and Parrott employed her bow,‭ ‬as Sportiello led them into dramatic pauses,‭ ‬then his manic,‭ ‬Art Tatum-esque solo at a breakneck pace.‭ ‬The trio then effortlessly de-accelerated‭ ‬into a ballad feel‭; ‬a bluesy Harlem shuffle,‭ ‬and a‭ ‬6/8‭ ‬rhythmic cadence before the coda and a necessary,‭ ‬breath-catching intermission.

‭“‬I hadn‭’‬t planned on doing this,‭ ‬but we're going to do a little tribute to Les Paul,‭”‬ Parrott said early in the second set.‭ ‬The bassist was a part of Paul‭’‬s weekly house band at the Iridium Jazz Club in Manhattan for nine years until the‭ ‬94-year-old icon died in‭ ‬2009,‭ ‬and she still honors him there on Mondays as part of the Les Paul Trio‭ (‬with guitarist Lou Pallo and pianist John Colianni‭)‬.

Parrott again changed the lyrics to suit the subject,‭ ‬this time in a medley of‭ ‬Young at Heart‭ ‬and‭ ‬How‭ ‬High the Moon.‭ ‬The loping former segued into the up-tempo latter,‭ ‬complete with a swinging Sportiello solo and trades between Metz and Parrott that had the bassist laughing and dancing.‭ ‬Her infectious energy permeated the entire concert,‭ ‬right down to‭ ‬her ballad ode to Peggy Lee,‭ I Love the Way You're Breaking My Heart‭ (‬featured on Parrott‭’‬s‭ ‬2009‭ ‬CD Fly‭ ‬Me to the Moon‭)‬.

Sportiello then showed his arranging prowess again,‭ ‬this time infusing George‭ ‬Shearing‭’‬s‭ ‬Lullaby of Birdland with a Baroque feel.‭ ‬Parrott‭’‬s underrated playing included both bow and fingerstyle‭; ‬Metz soloed only on the cymbals,‭ ‬and the pianist seamlessly shifted between swing and Baroque figures.

A muscular arrangement of Bert Kaempfert‭’‬s‭ ‬Spanish Eyes closed the show,‭ ‬and featured compelling solos by both Sportiello and Parrott.‭ ‬Yet it was Metz who brought the house down.‭ ‬Like Buddy Rich,‭ ‬the drummer uses every tool at his disposal‭ ‬--‭ ‬playing with brushes,‭ ‬soloing with his hands,‭ ‬and then bouncing drumsticks off of the snare,‭ ‬some of which he caught‭; ‬some of which ended up on the ledge above the stage.

This trio first played together while recording Metz‭’‬s‭ ‬2008‭ ‬CD‭ ‬Bridging the Gap,‭ ‬and it developed chemistry while performing a week‭’‬s worth of dates in Switzerland the following year.‭ ‬Parrott and Sportiello have recorded two duo CDs and are completely simpatico already,‭ ‬so any hiccups on this night‭ (‬most coming at the end of songs‭) ‬were en route toward complete symmetry with their otherwise fabulous drummer.

The three are likely to have all kinks worked out by the time they record during late-January dates at the Jazz Corner in Hilton Head,‭ ‬S.C.‭ ‬If this evening was any indication,‭ ‬the result could be a stellar‭ ‬2011‭ ‬live CD.

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