Saxophonist Stacy Dillard and pianist Victor Gould are not complete newcomers to the Capital Region. Dillard made an appearance at last year’s Freihofer’s Jazz Festival with Ben Williams and Sound Effect, and both Dillard and Gould were present for guitarist Michael Louis Smith’s performance at A Place for Jazz last November. So it comes as no surprise that supporters of the Capital Region jazz scene were out in force last Thursday despite the slushy weather.
The night started out with a modern vamp that worked into the classic standard “On Green Dolphin Street.” In fact, the evening turned out to be a mix of standards by heavy tenor players (Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” and Hank Mobley’s “This I Dig of You”), originals by Gould and Dillard, and new arrangements of classics like Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” which took on a new shape in 3/4.
If there is such a thing as an impressionist saxophonist, Dillard is it. Yes, he can play changes, he can play time, etc., but it is his greatest ability to circumvent these normal obstacles in an effort to juxtapose his raw ideas. At times he simply lets loose and we get a glimpse into his unconscious, as streams of lines emerge at a furious pace. Other times he will weave simple eighth-note bop lines, and just as the “average listener’s” ears start to wander, he attacks with a stream of repeated staccato notes to wake people from their trance.
Gould is another kind of player. He is steadfast and plays with a kind of ascendant mastery that defies his age. He has already held jobs with greats like Donald Harrison and Wallace Roney, and will begin recording his first record as a leader in March.
Just in case you were wondering, we happen to have a strong jazz scene in the Capital Region. It’s not just the ability, and willingness of cats to call on friends from the city (NYC) and other places to come mix with locals, but it is also the level of talent that some of those “locals” are able to bring to the table. Exhibit A: John Menegon. This guy has played with everyone from Dewey Redman, to (fellow upstater) Nick Brignola, and even has heavies Matt Wilson and Frank Kimbrough on his newest record. This night at the Lark was just another chance to show off his chops as he stepped right up to solo on “Green Dolphin Street” and “Dolphin Dance” with his solid, core sound and conversational ease.
The most moving piece of the night arguably was drummer Joe Barna’s ballad “Living Without You,” which he wrote for a friend whose wife had died. Dillard had been raging into the higher registers with his fiery soprano but returned to his husky, vintage tenor sound for this delicate homage. Barna is a talented composer who likes to envision different people when he writes. In this way, all his pieces have a different personality, and they often show us sides of himself that are not immediately apparent. He is a drummer known as much for his chops and ability to push the beat as he is for his sheer power and volume. That being said, it is always a nice change of pace to get a glimpse of his gentle side as he grabs the brushes and presents one of his more subdued pieces. Barna also acts as the musical curator for the Lark Tavern’s jazz events: both the monthly “Young Lions” series and the weekly “Soulful Sunday” installments.