Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review: The Massey Hall 60th Anniversary Concert at the Gem Theater

About twenty minutes after the Massey Hall 60th Anniversary tribute concert began Saturday at the Gem Theater, drummer Kenny Washington violently gestured at a member of the audience who had apparently done something to offend him. 

I was thrilled to witness the emotional outburst.  Prior to that incident, the concert had been overly polite.  The band led by pianist Bill Charlap- trumpeter Jon Faddis, saxophonist Jesse Davis, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Washington- was careful and deliberate on opening numbers including "Perdido" and "Salt Peanuts."

The sense of urgency that characterized the famous 1953 concert had been replaced with a placid approach that was about as dangerous as the educational exhibit across the street at the American Jazz Museum that houses the plastic sax played by Charlie Parker 61 years ago in Toronto.

Charlap, one of today's most revered pianists, seemed handcuffed by the repertoire that centered on the bop standards performed at Massey Hall by Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.  Perhaps the most accomplished bass/drum tandem in mainstream jazz, the Washingtons also played it safe.

Faddis' gorgeous feature on "'Round Midnight" was the concert's first wholly exceptional selection.  Yet it wasn't until deep in the second set that Davis' furious unaccompanied coda on "A Night in Tunisia" sent a jolt of electricity through the room.  It was followed by Davis' sultry rendition of "The Gypsy." 

Then Bobby Watson showed up.  Davis had already proven that he didn't need any extra incentive, but the rest of the band seemed inspired by Watson's presence.  The ensemble's rendition of "Parker's Mood" provided one of the most memorable concert-going experiences I've enjoyed in 2014.

Not including the intermission, Charlap's band performed for two hours and twenty minutes.  The handful of transcendent moments compensated for the occasional tedium.  The other person sitting in my row shared my impression.  He spent most of the concert on his phone. 

The band didn't get much help from the room.  Empty seats outnumbered members of the audience in the 500-capacity venue.  The turnout reflected poorly on Kansas City's allegiance to Parker. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.  The American Jazz Museum created a photo set documenting the evening.)

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