By Budd Kopman
Hearing jazz live is arguably the best way to experience it. Barring that, a live recording, done well, can be a reasonable substitute. A live show that has that magic, that “it,” is a rare thing, and a good recording of one of those is even rarer. That’s What is most definitely in that category, and a case could easily be made that it compares well with Smokin’ at the Half Note (Verve, 1965) with Wes Montgomery and Wynton Kelly.
Yes, it is that good. This record is guaranteed to get your foot tapping and put a big smile on your face. All jazz does not have to involve deep thinking or existential issues and stand atop a steep mountain to be climbed. Admittedly, I very much enjoy that kind of jazz, but there are many times that I want to be on the other side of the mind/ body dialectic and just be swept away by the sheer joy of hard swinging, yet seemingly effortless jazz and end up feeling refreshed, invigorated, and full of hope for the world.
The Cellar Restaurant/Jazz Club in Vancouver, Canada has been voted one of the top 100 jazz clubs worldwide by Downbeat, and it is lovingly owned and run by Cory Weeds, who engineers the recordings made there. While top-name talent continually plays there, Weeds likes to showcase local talent. If Oliver Gannon and Brad Turner (whose 2004 release Question the Answer on MaxJazz was notable) are any indication, New York City is not the center of the jazz universe.
Gannon is one of those low-key masters from whom the phrases just flow. He does nothing extra--doesn't show off, just puts every note in its perfect place. He even uses the “wrong” kind of guitar (a solid body Ibanez is pictured), getting not the typical fat sound, but one that has a slight phase or distortion added. His rhythm section is top notch, with Miles Hill and Blaine Wikjord locked in on bass and drums. Pianist Miles Black knows when to comp, when to fill, and when to fly, providing an ideal solo partner for Gannon.
The album has a definite bluesy feel in the beginning, starting with Gannon's “Jay’s Blues” and then on to a typically quirky blues by Monk, “Bright Mississippi.” After a little Caribbean detour in “Four Cats,” the bluesy feel returns with “Brooklyn” (another Gannon original), which is then followed by my favorite non-blues blues, Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” which comes across appropriately plaintive and mournful. The second half of the set is filled with two standards, “Stella By Starlight” and the “Talk of the Town,” each beautifully done in different ways, and Gannon seems to soften his tone a bit. Miles Black’s driving “Soul Journey” brings the set to a rousing finish.
So, put this on the player, set the volume for a live set, pop open a beer, then sit back, pretend you are at the Cellar and enjoy. Just super! <<