Tuesday, August 9, 2016

John Coltrane's Giant Steps at the Nashville Jazz Workshop

Aylor, Finnie, Nardone, and Aliquo
When one lives in rural northwest Tennessee, there aren't quite enough opportunities available to enjoy good live jazz. However, just a couple of hours to the east there's the Nashville Jazz Workshop, on Adams St., in the Germantown area of the Tennessee capital. The Workshop is a haven for jazz fans and musicians in a city that's usually better known for other kinds of music. Last Saturday night, as part of a series focusing on great jazz albums, the Workshop presented a quartet led by tenorist Don Aliquo and featuring pianist Jody Nardone, drummer Marcus Finnie, and bassist Jack Aylor. The band, which got together exclusively for this gig, played all the tracks on John Coltrane's classic 1959 LP Giant Steps, one of the most celebrated of Trane's fabulous discography. I attended the early show (at 6:00 p.m.; there was also a late show at 8:30) with my wife, my daughter and some close relatives and enjoyed some fantastic music played to a few dozen people sitting at tables in a small, welcoming venue that seats around 100. Pittsburgh-born tenor saxophonist Aliquo has lived in Nashville for almost 20 years and is a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, as well as a much in-demand jazzman around the Music City and all over the country. As the albums he's recorded so far suggest, he is influenced not only by Coltrane, but also by other sax greats like Dexter Gordon and Stanley Turrentine. His flawless technique and uncanny ability to create engaging solos at a breakneck speed make him the perfect choice to handle Coltrane's complex, highly demanding compositions. Yet Aliquo can also play in a sensitive sensual manner, as he did on the ballad "Naima," and as some of the tunes from his recent collaboration with pianist Beegie Adair (Too Marvelous for Words) demonstrate.

This blog's author with Don Aliquo
Aliquo was in fine company last Saturday at the Workshop. New Jersey native Nardone has also worked with countless jazz legends and displays an attractive, energetic piano style that worked well both in support of Aliquo's tenor and when it came time to solo. The wistful introduction he played on "Naima" was one of the highlights of the concert. Finnie, who hails from Memphis, is a very accomplished drummer with a great deal of experience both in and outside of jazz. His dynamic approach and spectacular drumming constantly met with the general approval and applause of the audience and helped propel the quartet's inspired performances. Finally, Aylor, by far the youngest musician on the stage on Saturday night, and currently a jazz student at New York's Columbia University, is quickly becoming one of the most promising young jazz bassists in his hometown of Nashville. Aylor has a natural sense of rhythm and blended perfectly well with the rest of the rhythm section, handling Paul Chambers's often complex bass solos with great ease. The evening began with a sprightly version of the title track, which set the tone for the rest of the concert, with Aliquo leading the quartet in an authoritative but always generous fashion, stepping to one side of the stage whenever he wasn't soloing in order to allow the rest of the musicians to take the spotlight. Though the idea was to play tribute to the legendary LP, the band didn't try to merely imitate the great Coltrane quartet, but rather they reinterpreted its timeless tunes (from "Cousin Mary" to the flurry of notes that is "Countdown" to a spirited reading of "Spiral" to the intriguing "Syeeda's Song Flute" to "Naima," the only slow number on the album) with great reverence and respect. Showing he's also an educator, Aliquo even took the time to briefly introduce some of the tracks, providing a little background information that added to the audience's enjoyment of the music that was being presented. The evening came to a close not long after a rousing drum solo by Finnie on "Mr. P.C.," the bluesy album closer. In short, it was a lovely event at the Nashville Jazz Workshop that served not only to showcase a magnificent live performance of a legendary album but also to introduce some of us in the audience to four musicians of different backgrounds and ages brought together by a common love of classic jazz.

The quartet on stage at the Nashville Jazz Workshop

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