Friendly Faces in New York

Seeing Cecil Taylor was great fun on my New York trip in May, but I was also glad to finally meet Jeff Arnal.

He’s a formerly Brooklyn-based drummer who relocated to Philadelphia sometime in the last couple of weeks to start a new job. I’d gotten acquainted with him through KZSU, which has been on the correspondance list for his Generate Records label. He’s put out some good stuff, and I’ve been glad to play it.

Arnal also played in an improvising quartet called Transit, which has two albums on Clean Feed. Good stuff.

So, I finally got to see him in person and chat for a bit. We talked a little about college radio, and about his pending move to Philadelphia (he’s working with a Pew Center program there). It was good. There are a few people whose names and music became familiar, in a good way, during my KZSU jazz-director tenure, and it’s nice to have finally met a couple of them, even if only briefly.

The occasion was a show at IBeam in Brooklyn. Arnal and longtime piano partner Gordon Beeferman played in a trio improv setting with Evan Rapport on sax, and trumpeter Nate Wooley took up the second set with his quintet, playing new tunes.

Arnal and Beeferman have played together for more than a decade, I think, and it shows. Their set with Rapport consisted of a few long improvisations, with Arnal and Beeferman showing great intuition for pushing the flow of the music, more than once picking a stopping point or transition point simultaneously. Beeferman’s piano playing was a joy to watch, with his spidery fingers applying  an invisibly light touch to produce runs and chords. Rapport put up some good, aggressive sax, often favoring long wails and squeals.

As for Arnal, his drumming is wonderful when it’s aggressive and loud, but what really caught my ear in this particular session were the quieter moments, the airy breaks showing off moments of delicacy and a sensitivity to the way sounds can communicate.

The Nate Wooley Quintet followed, furthering the bebop tradition with adventurous composing and some terrific soloing. Matt Moran on vibraphone was an unmissable voice in the band, but the whole ensemble was great, from solos to group passages. The new songs seemed to be inspired mostly from Wooley’s time in California, and they were all pleasant jazz tunes with some off-kilter touches in the writing. This stuff wouldn’t be out of place in a jazz club, although the music’s departures from tradition and free-soloing tendencies might distract some audiences. After my trip, I went and bought their first album , (Put Your) Hands Together, on eMusic and I’ll be in line to get the second, I’m sure.

The photo below is a random shot of the neighborhood around iBeam, right around sunset. I think it captures the quiet of the area.

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