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Fancy feet: Savion Glover.

Tap Master
By Mae G. Banner

Savion Glover
The Egg, Oct. 29

Savion Glover is more than a phenomenon; he is a force of nature. Back at the Egg last Friday for his third annual gig, Glover has found new ways to amaze an already smitten audience.

Years ago, he taught us that tap is far more than the steps we learned from Hollywood musicals. Tap is, and always has been, integral to jazz. Glover’s feet are his drums and he wields them with power and finesse.

In Friday’s Improvography concert, Glover was chief soloist and also conductor of a four-man combo: Danny Nixon on piano; Patience Higgins, saxophone; Brian Grice, drums; and Andy McCloud, bass. Glover would focus on one of his colleagues,most often the pianist, moving in close and facing the player. He would establish the groove and Nixon or Higgins would pick it up and toss it back to the non-stop hoofer, who would take it for a long, stage-covering ride.

Improvography, a term Glover says he learned from his honored mentor, the late Gregory Hines, captures Glover’s music perfectly. The improv part is jazz’s artistic hallmark: instant composition. The “ography” tag reminds us that all these startling rhythms, counter-rhythms and delicate melodies are part of the jazz and tap lexicon. They are the known tools at the hoofer’s disposal, available to recombine in new ways.

Martha Graham called her autobiography Blood Memory. Glover draws on a reservoir of musical memory that encompasses the whole history of tap and reaches beyond to ancient sources as he creates music before your eyes.

Note that his work has charms for the eyes as well as the ears. Glover is known for facing his colleagues rather than the audience, for dancing with his head bent, the better to connect with the vibrating dance floor. But, he continues to grow and change. This time, he turned to us occasionally, spoke to us, scatted and growled, and played out repetitive rhythms so cleanly that his bent-kneed body and rippling feet made accented pictures in the air like the loops in a Jackson Pollock painting.

Last year’s concert was half Glover, half his group of young dancers. This year, we saw nearly 100-percent Glover, with only a couple of turns for the ensemble of five youngsters, including the 15-year-old Cartier Williams. The Ti Dii crew are fun to watch, but, good as they are, they remain shadows of Glover, so it was great that the 30-year-old master gave so generously of his genius as a soloist.

Like other jazzmen, Glover can shape any kind of music to his improvisatory will. He and the combo (set up at center stage on a platform partly enclosed by reflective plexiglass) began with “Inch Worm”—imagine Glover’s feet “measuring the marigolds”—and went on to blues; a Latin-touched passage in which the bassist strummed his instrument like a guitar; an ear-ripping abrasive turn in which Glover scraped his heel across the stage over and over, while the bassist used his bow; some nice scatting to “Take the A Train,” and a final, instructive composition, “The Stars and Stripes Forever—For Now.”

Rap and hip-hop were part of the mix. So was African drumming, when Glover would speak with one foot and his other foot would answer with a different rhythm. Watching him in perpetual motion can be exhausting, yet Glover never seems drained. He solos like Max Roach; just when you get comfortable with an ongoing rhythm, he switches to a new one and pulls you along.

In one beautiful moment among many, Glover, in duet with the alto sax, reached out his arms and began to gather in the music, then cast it out again, like sowing seed. Almost in a trance, he began to pivot on one foot, turning and turning like Thelonius Monk. Glover pulls you into a smoky dream, a man possessed by the music.

Glover is steeped in the jazz tradition of colleagueship. At least three times, he introduced the members of the combo. When the moment was right, he would quiet his feet, vamping while another soloist shone. Honoring his musical ancestors, he wore around his neck a laminated photo of Gregory Hines, like an ID tag that would permit him to enter this jazz world. This tag on its long chain would whip around as Glover danced.

In a final formal gesture, Glover slipped off his shoes and laid first one, then the other, on the floor, crossing them like a pair of drumsticks, then left the stage. It was a silent prayer.


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