Regatta Bar

Cettina Donato

July 24, 2013 at The Regattabar

For most musicians, when you show up to a gig, the last thing you want to see is a stack of complicated arrangements that you’ve never played before. At the Regattabar Wednesday night, Italian pianist and composer Cettina Donato traveled from Italy to promote her new album, “Crescendo”, which features big band and string quartet arrangements of her tunes. Unable to bring her entire band to America and with little time to rehearse, Donato chose to hire a smaller band of experienced Berklee professors unfamiliar with her compositions and complex arrangements. While a challenge for lesser musicians, Donato’s sextet was able to successfully translate her original arrangements into memorable performances.

Donato’s band was in sync all night. Drummer Ron Savage was able to keep his volume in control – a true feat for any drummer in the intimate Regattabar. When he wasn’t laying down grooves and keeping strong time, bassist David Santoro offered melodic and thoughtful solos. Trumpet player Ken Cervenka had a great sense of space and phrasing, and alto saxophone player Rafael Aguiar had a soulful, smooth tone. Donato, herself was a skilled soloist, playing fast, staccato lines effortlessly.

Herbie Hancock first took note of Donato’s talent as a composer, encouraging her in person to continue writing and arranging. Hancock was definitely onto something; Donato’s compositions were polished and engaging. Songs off Donato’s new album change styles when you least expect it and play with complex time signatures.

The band barreled through Donato’s compositions off of her new album. A highlight of the night was a waltz called “Step by Step”. One after another, each musician had a turn to solo over chord changes they’d never seen before, truly allowing the audience to witness improvisation at its finest. In one of the final songs of the night, the band performed the well-known jazz standard “My Romance”. It must have been a little bit of a relief for Donato’s band to see a song they all knew and had played before. The break was short lived though, and they finished with another Donato composition. In the end, despite the band’s unfamiliarity with Donato’s music, her compositions soared to new heights in a different, yet fascinating context.

– Nathan Basch (Jazz pianist, Economics student at The George Washington University)

Ron Carter Trio

July 26 & 27, 2013 at The Regattabar

Deep into his illustrious career, it is obvious that Ron Carter still loves to play. In his stellar performances Friday and Saturday night, you could see him smiling while musically messing around with his band on stage. Sometimes he would surprise the musicians by reharmonizing a chord or suddenly springing into double time. His well picked trio – Donald Vega on piano and Russell Malone on guitar – was quick to respond and adapt, smiling right back at Carter. In four performances filled with virtuosic musicianship and musical conversation, the Regattabar audiences were smiling too.

The instrumentation of Carter’s trio worked tremendously within the intimate atmosphere of the Regattabar. Without being obscured by drums or percussion, Carter’s beautiful bass lines were at the forefront of each show. Guitarist Russell Malone acted as the band’s backbone with his Freddy Green-style strumming and Herb Ellis-inspired percussiveness. With technically virtuosic ability, pianist Donald Vega told me his biggest influences are Oscar Peterson and Kenny Barron (with whom he studied with at Julliard). Despite Vega’s incredible talent that can sometimes overwhelm, he still has the ability to leave space and listen.

The trio’s song selection ranged from well-known jazz standards to Michael Bolton. In a laid back version of “Soft Winds”, the band was swinging hard. Vega laid down a ferocious, bluesy solo, even showing his stride piano chops. From the back of the room, I could see half the audiences’ heads bobbing to the band’s swingin’ arrangement of the Fletcher Henderson original. Another highlight of Carter’s visit was his beautiful arrangement of the classic, “Autumn Leaves”. In it, Carter played a soulful solo, where he found his way climbing up and down the bass with the confidence and ease we’ve come to expect. But maybe the most unexpected part of the performance was Russell Malone’s jazzed up solo version of the Michael Bolton classic, “When a Man Loves a Woman”. Malone – who channeled the inventiveness of Bill Frisell in his interpretation – apparently played the song for Carter and his wife, who had just had their first anniversary one day before. As the room erupted into applause, Vega, Malone, and Carter took a well-deserved bow and exited the stage.

— Nathan Basch (Jazz pianist, Economics student at The George Washington University)

Buckwheat Zydeco

July 9, 2013 at The Regattabar

Accordion player and American music legend Buckwheat Zydeco played an eclectic show at the Regattabar on Tuesday night, taking strong influences from the Blues, Be-bop, Motown and Rock in his interpretation of traditional Zydeco music. In a night filled with dancing, laughing and some Louisiana spunk, “Buck” – as Zydeco’s friends call him – brought some southern flavor to the often-polite Regattabar audience.

While often mislabeled as New Orleans or Cajun music, Zydeco music originates from west of New Orleans and is steeped in the roux of French Creole culture. In his stellar band, Buck added musicians who would complement his own rich cultural background. His trumpet player added a sense of Jazz phrasing while his guitarist saw Zydeco music through the lens of the Blues. Buck’s drummer and bassist were versatile as well, able to lay down a variety of different grooves. All members worked together to create a melting pot of engaging sounds.

In a soulful version of a tune called “Tee-Nah-Nah”, Buck showed off his charisma, building a call and response dialogue with his audience. Buck’s captivating versions of The Rolling Stone’s “Beast of Burden” and Jimi Hendrix’s  “Hey Joe” brought the audience to their feet. Buck’s gritty accordion and organ playing throughout the night reminded the audience why they came to see him. While the audience may have walked in on a quiet Tuesday night, they left Harvard square dancing like a Saturday night on Bourbon Street.

Buckwheat Zydeco’s Cover of The Rolling Stone’s “Beast of Burden”

— Nathan Basch (Jazz pianist, Economics student at The George Washington University)

Larry Goldings / Peter Bernstein / Bill Stewart

It was a homecoming for organist Larry Goldings at the Regattabar Thursday night. This Newton native’s revered trio – which includes guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Bill Stewart – has been wowing audiences for the past 20 years. The band took a stop in Cambridge to promote their newest album, Live at Smalls.

In a band of only three musicians, groove is everything. While the set list varied from original tunes to jazz standards of different styles, the band was consistently in the pocket. Goldings was the biggest factor in the groove, walking bass with his left hand while soloing and playing chords in his right. Along with Bill Stewart’s keen sense of time and Peter Bernstein’s full, clear tone, the trio maintained a strong sense of groove, further allowing each individual musician to communicate and explore.

It was clear that these musicians had been playing together for several years. While each a star in their own right, Goldings, Bernstein, and Stewart were having a modest and true musical conversation all night. The band’s cohesiveness allowed each member to experiment outside their comfort zone, knowing that the rest of the band would follow. This was made clear on a Peter Bernstein original called “Jive Coffee”. While the tune had a simple Latin feel, Bernstein and Goldings’ solos soared above the tune’s simplicity to unexpected heights. Each musician knew when to build up energy and get louder, but also knew when not to play – to exercise restraint. Through all the highs and lows, the band stayed together with impressive chemistry, giving the audience an opportunity to appreciate the emotion and feeling of improvisation at its best.

— Nathan Basch (Jazz pianist, Economics student at The George Washington University)