By Bill Kohlhaase – Reprinted from BoZone.com: News and Reviews
uring the break at trumpeter Jack Walrath and bassist Kelly Roberti’s Thursday, April 29 concert at the Story Mansion, I overheard Walrath speaking with a fan about schizophrenia, saying that those who have it lose a sense of time and that things that happened long ago might as well have happened yesterday. The discussion seemed appropriate to the evening’s performance. Playing a program that combined classic Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn numbers with glistening Walrath originals, the trumpeter seemed to transcend time and space in a way that made it seem all the same thing.
Walrath, born in Florida but raised in Montana, is something of a legend, as much for his composing and arranging as well as stints with Ray Charles, Charles Mingus and the Mingus Dynasty. His own recordings, obscure but cherished by aficionados, (including the remarkable 1988 Blue Note date Neohippis), are full of ambitious originals with off-beat titles such as Village of the Darned, The Lord’s Calypso and Meat. The chance to see him in such an intimate setting was a rare opportunity indeed.
Teaming with Roberti — something of a legend himself for his work with David Murray, Freddie Hubbard, Eddie Harris and others — Walrath played with flair and agility in a style that seemed especially suited to his graceful, sometimes athletic compositions. The quintet included saxophonist Alan Fauque, drummer Brad Edwards and 26-year-old guitarist Alex Nauman, all of whom seemed particularly suited for the something-old, something-new program.
After acknowledging Ellington’s 111th birthday, the group opened with a pair of his better-known numbers, Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A Train” and Ellington’s “(In My) Solitude.” But the set took off when the band cut into Walrath’s “Rats and Wolves,” a tune better known as “Black Bats and Poles,” the name Mingus gave it when he included it on his landmark 1975 release, “Changes Two.” The tune’s thumping, three-note bass line was just the thing for Roberti, who decorated it with double-stops and a host of tonal and rhythmic variations. Walrath, appearing fit and playing with a surfeit of breath, took his solo outside of the piece’s anthem-like theme.
The tune made for a natural segue into more recent Walrath material. “Espionage,” “Is This An Epiphany Or What?” and “An Alien Playground at Twilight” all showed the same, somewhat twisted sense of theme and the composer’s ability to move a tune through a variety of moods and tempos. When “Alien Playground” broke at its close from its 5/4 drive to straight-ahead swing, the once-and-future tone of the program seemed complete.
Roberti, as always, elevated every tune. He produced a constant flow of jibes, echoes and counterpoints for his band mates while soloing with a steady narrative of ideas. His own contribution to the evening’s set list “The Final Drum,” was a somber, impressionistic tone poem that took on a Coltranesque-feel powered by Edwards’ rolling polyrhythms.
Fauque, playing alto most of the night, showed a good feel for the music if not making daring statements of his own. His best showing of the night came on “Espionage,” when he picked up the tenor to add some intrigue to the mid-tempo groove. Guitarist Nauman was the evening’s surprise, his electric comping tasteful and new-thing trendy, his improvs adding something smart and kinky to the music.
The sound in the mansion’s living room was surprisingly warm and contained considering the room’s glass window’s and large entry into adjoining rooms. The space’s intimacy made the night something special, the horns playing un-amplified and Walrath taking time to spin tales of his work with Mingus, Ray Charles, The Simpsons’ composer Alf Clausen and how he came by some of his strange song titles.
The show was the launch of a monthly series hosted by Roberti. Though upcoming dates and performers have yet to be announced, this will be, considering Roberti’s connections in the jazz world and the fine stable of musicians who call Montana home, well worth attending.
Keep an eye on KellyRoberti.com and FriendsOfTheStory.org
for more information.
Bill Kohlhaase has written about jazz for The Los Angeles Times, Downbeat and a host of other publications. Read more at The Cabbage Rabbit Review of Books and Music.