(Authors note: I composed this article about my teacher and a great inspiration to me with my musical life. I tried to capture the feeling of the musicians working together as much as how much I learned from the experience.)
Tim Price with the Department of Good and Evil
L’Villa D’Arte at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel Ballroom
Friday, March 16 – 17, 2007 as presented by the First Energy Berks Jazz Festival, Reading, PA
As I contemplated my drive from Southern New Jersey with the wind whipping, the sleet falling throughout Philly, heavy snow falling in the area, and the forecast for bad driving conditions sounding worse and worse, I thought about why I was going to still make this trip. To see the internationally acclaimed woodwind virtuoso Tim Price on his home turf of Berks County with one of the freshest new jazz trios on the eastern seaboard, or the USA for that matter, (since they are touring California as I write this), The Department of Good and Evil. I decided that I couldn’t miss it and set out in my truck for what ended up being a 5 hour drive past jack-knifed tractor trailers to make what is normally a 1 ½ hour trip. I also knew that the entire REASON that D.O.G.E was coming way there, was to play with Tim Price, not just to do a gig.
I was infinitely rewarded, and forgot about the drive as soon as the music started. Besides, the rest of the band went through the same weather for almost 10 hours to be there to play to me.
The room was over half filled, even with and because of the snowstorm. After the first song, I was hooked, big time. Tim’s tone and projection on tenor sax filled the beautiful old world ballroom throughout the first set with some old standards, and at least three of Tim’s original compositions. The band of Rachel Z, (who I had known from her playing with such luminaries as Wayne Shorter and Peter Gabriel), Bobbie Rae on Drums and Percussion, and Maeve Royce on Upright Bass was extremely tight, and communicated to the audience using of all the elements of jazz, the language, in an extremely melodic way. I have not felt this from any of the recent recordings I have heard on any label, because it is new ground for a change. It isn’t avant garde jazz, its not smooth jazz, its not be bop, its not blues. It is actually all of those things, and then add, rock, reggae, funk, international rhythms, and apply it to some old and new jazz standards while still staying with the melody.
Rachel Z is a giftedly unique pianist of the highest order. She captivated me with her flowing runs, and especially her presence within the music. I am not sure that I can at this point in my listening of her work, put her into any category. This enthralls me all the more. She has the inventiveness of Herbie Hancock, the lyricism of Chick Corea, the fluidness of Horace Silver, the scat of Art Tatum, the list is endless. As a soloist, as an accompanist, Rachel Z is in a class by herself for this writer.
Maeve Royce is only 22, but plays with intensity unmatched by professionals two and three times her age. Her ability to hold on to an audience with her solos thrilled me, while she and the rest of the band tested each other with complex chord patterns. Not one member flinched or shied away from the challenges set forth. Jazz is all about tension and release, communication and stretching boundaries and these four performers have got it all together in that department.
You could feel they were really HAVING FUN pushing each other. They all got back into the groove every time they stretched, which is the real test to any drummer, and a testament to Bobbie Rae. Mr. Price said that “calling Bobbie Rae just a drummer is like calling Ben Franklin just a scientist”. Wow. I can’t say anymore than this: Mr. Price is right on. And Bobbie is as soulful, as hip and as beautiful a person as you would want to meet.
At one point, while listening to Tim’s composition of “Combat Zone”, recorded on Tim’s standards release “Passion Sax”, the scene outside the large floor to ceiling windows behind the band caught my eye, the still heavy snow outside was falling sideways, and the band was swinging his upbeat tune right along with it. It was a magically lyrical sonic portrait. Tim told us this tune was inspired by his years playing in the seedier clubs of
in the 70’s, and it certainly had that “little bit nasty, little bit guttural” feel to it. They then launched into a seldom played tune from Wayne Shorter called “Tom Thumb”. With the way this song was presented, it should be played quite a bit more often, especially by this band. Tim’s solo was a fitting tribute to Shorter, using all the multiphonics, chord progressions, and altissimo available to him in his vast range on the tenor sax. The next tune started with Maeve on bass alone, effortlessly moving through the changes with her trademark humming/singing, then with Tim, Rachel and Bobbie joining in what turned out to be “It Never Entered My Mind”. His treatment of this ballad reminded me of a Stan Getz recording of this tune, although I am sure Tim’s humility and respect for Stan’s work wouldn’t like me to make that comment. Next came another excellent Tim Price composition written as a homage to John Coltrane entitled, “Twins of Spirit”, which has recently been recorded by two other students of Tim’s, along with Bob Mintzer, of YellowJackets fame. It was “Priceless” when Bobbie Rae and Tim started a dialogue on the drums and sax that went from Trane-esque to funk, to swing, and back to bebop, each time building and building with a masterful use of percussion and sax, which I have no reference point to compare to, just to say it was phenomenally entertaining if not mesmerizing.
And that was just the first set! The second set was even more inventive. Needless to say, I extended my stay over at the
In order to catch their show on Saturday night as well, and attended their improvisational seminar at the Goggle Works in the afternoon, attended by professional musicians and students
, but that’s a whole other story in itself.
One comment I would like to make from the improv class at Goggle Works. Rachel Z was asked why she liked playing with Tim Price, by one of the many students in attendance. She has played with a HOST of soloists from around the world, and she picks Tim as “interesting, one of my favorites, because he challenges me in ways few others do today”. She went on to state some background: Because a musician, when they find THEIR sound, brings with them in that sound all the players who influenced them throughout their lives, and she was especially attracted to the ones that Tim heard and learned from while they were passing through.
Johnny Griffin, Brother Jack McDuff, and many more that played on the so called “chitlin circuit”. And because those from other big cities she has played with, just didn’t experience the “dirty harmonies” and inventive use of chords that Tim did growing up where he did. What I think she was getting at was that although Tim Price calls Berks County home, and brings her aforementioned experiences to his music, he plays globally with that small town feeling, that anyone from a small town understands, and blends it with his international study of all idioms of music to create a fascinatingly blended musical palette. There is no one from the jazz idiom today, that this writer is familiar with, that could play a different instrument on every tune on a 12 or more track cd, and do it to the highest level of proficiency that Mr. Price can.
By the way, the Saturday night show was SRO packed with young and old, students of Tim’s as well as music followers, eager to hear the band that everyone from the night before must have been talking about. The few repeated songs from Friday night sounded even better the second time I heard them, and were each presented in a different way from the night before.
As a final comment on the shows, at the end of the every set I witnessed, the crowd took a full minute to bask in the intensity of the feelings this band created, before erupting in applause and a standing ovation.
Thank you Tim Price, and Thank You to Rachel Z, Bobbie Rae, and Maeve Royce for two of the most enjoyable shows I have seen in my 37 years of listening to live music. And thanks to the First Energy Berks County Jazz Fest Committee for having the foresight to book Tim Price and the Department of Good and Evil as part of their festival. By the way, I will be back to the Berks Jazz Fest for two more shows offered next Friday night, but that might be another story, I just hope it doesn’t snow again.
Larry is a TakeLessons Certified Instructor and gives saxophone lessons in Philadelphia and Woodbury NJ focusing on Blues, Jazz, Classical, Big Band.