Monday night was a rare chance for me: some downtime in New York City. The choices for music shows are overwhelming. But once I discovered there was some actual free jazz in a Times Square venue, I had to show up, just to show some support.
Well, that, and to see Ellery Eskelin for the first time in about a decade.
It was the debut of a new series, whereby Roberto’s Winds will be bringing jazz to the Limerick Bar, the upstairs room at Rosey O’Grady’s 46th-Street restaurant. Most of the music will be on the straighter side, but they took a nice chance by kicking off the series with Eskelin. Or, maybe it wasn’t such a chance — Eskelin is a well known name by now (heck, it brought me to the place, didn’t it?). He brought in a new trio with Gary Versace on organ and Tyshawn Sorey on drums.
I got there early enough to eavesdrop on Eskelin talking strategy with the band. “If you hear a tune, just go with it,” and “So, this is basically an improv gig.” I wasn’t trying to listen in, but it’s a small and cozy area, and very few people had arrived at the time.
As expected, then, the show stuck mostly to jazzy motifs but coloring outside the lines quite a bit. Eskelin opened things by soloing himself, going a few minutes before Sorey joined tentatively. Versace really got things going by pulsing out some bass notes on the organ, setting up a kind of rhythmless groove that the group could ride for a good long time.
With the parameters set, the trio locked in for the rest of the show. That first long piece hit some energetic highs and turned out very successfully. They started a second piece in a mellower tone, veering into a kind of improvised ballad that built up in intensity and volume. Sorey went absolutely nuts for one long stretch, snapping at the drums and cymbals with impossibly fast arms. He can be an inferno when he wants to.
The crowd was sympathetic, but you didn’t get many outbursts of applause or whooping, even though many, many moments deserved it. Chalk it up to the venue — friendly place, but plush. With people eating dinner, it seemed more polite to save the applause for the ends of pieces. The one exception was during the closing piece, a straight-jazz improvisation where Eskelin turned in a crowd-pleasing, crescendoing solo. Big applause there, some of it pent up from not applauding at key points of other pieces, I’d think.
As for Rosie O’Grady’s itself, the food is the usual Irish/British fare you’d expect, in a serious restaurant setting. You can get fish and chips, of course, but it’s mostly a traditional meat-and-potatoes place: shepherd’s pie, beef stew, and the like. Hardy food for absorbing those Guinesses you’ve been knocking down.
The night had a second set, with saxophonist Hayes Greenfield, but I didn’t stick around. The chance to catch something more “outside” on the Lower East Side beckoned. I’ll be writing that up separately.