Trios To Remember
Friday, December 12th, 2008
"Time." It's that intangible something that's seems to be in the air these days. Whether it's the recent welcoming in of the New Year, the recognition that, finally, the highest office in the land was ready for a little 'color'("It's Time", indeed), or in the world of music, the December passing of Freddie Hubbard, time is something that few people use to its fullest. What music fan wouldn't love to have read a book by Hubbard on his jazz life and times, instead of, say, Joe Torre on how Alex Rodriguez is so tricky to manage-give me a break! But I digress...

When it comes to time, jazz musicians don't have any more of it than your local butcher-but what the accomplished musician can do with that time in a group context is well worth the price of admission. That was again the case at Mt. Vernon's BassLine Club, this time on a Friday (December 12, 2008) evening as opposed to the monthly Sunday afternoon soiree. No doubt the day change along with the bitter cold kept the number of attendees down, but those in the house-and in the know- were richly rewarded with two outstanding piano trio ensembles. One was led by Marcus Persiani, (justifiably referred to as the 'quintessential side man' in the evening's notes) while a second featured an outstanding newcomer, Cuban born pianist Elio Villafranca.

Villafranca-who was accompanied by veterans Chuck McPherson and Marcus McLaurine on drums and bass, respectively, may just be getting his name out there as far as the larger jazz public is concerned, but he has already graced the stage with Wynton Marsalis, Candido, Eddie Henderson and Ray Vega, among others. He opened the evening with the standard "Night and Day"-a cool bass vamp set the stage for Elio's solo, which found him approaching the tune a bit tentatively at first. In a matter of moments he had warmed to the tune (and perhaps, the stage) and took a series of single-note runs that led into a smokin' run of block chords. McLaurine laid the groundwork, even managing to get in a "Country Gardens" quote in the process. McPherson used the full drum kit to tunefully close out the Latin groove-excellent! After the fire of the opener, it was time to lay back a bit-Monk's "Let's Cool One" fit the bill perfectly. After a nod to Monk in his intro, Villafranca played extensively with his right hand alone, while the boppish brushwork of McPherson offering head-shakin' accompaniment. At one point he rolled the brush in his right hand across the drumhead- it swung wonderfully. Several other numbers included Herbie Hancock's "One Finger Snap", showing that Mr. Hancock has been closely listened to by Villafranca as well. A searingly lyrical take on "A Child Is Born" demonstrated this pianist's way with a ballad-a run played in unison by piano and bass on this was a standout. The bebop favorite "Donna Lee" ended the first set in knuckle-busting fashion!

Not to be outdone, and certainly impressed by what he'd heard, Marcus Persiani turned in a well-honed set with familiar band-mates Andy McCloud (b) and Dion Parson (d).The opener was by a Persiani favorite, Hilton Ruiz-his "New Arrival" seemed especially aptly named this evening, but the mercurial solo by the pianist (with a dash of Tyner for good measure), announced that Marcus was up to the challenge. Parsons took a solo that showed his fine sense of dynamics before closing things out. An original, ?Lost City" followed-the hip vamp that opened it up made me think about relocating(not to worry, anyone reading this already has the proverbial 'room with a view').Something from Wayne Shorter's songbook-"Night Dreamer"-found Persiani evoking a dream-like state with his intro. The moody, waltz-time flavor of the piece underscored the popularity of Shorter's writing for the modern musician. Parson, with a nod to Elvin Jones, was flailing away at his kit as the tune ended, as if to shout.."Wake up!" More please!

Other tunes from the well-programmed set included "Bemsha Swing", the Parker favorite "Big Foot", a sprightly, seasonal "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town" (shades of Bill Evans), plus an original by Andy McCloud,"Lisa", that deserves lyrics written to suit it's lovely melody. The bassist's playing on this tune-and throughout the evening-reminded one of the late Sam Jones. Tuneful, tasteful and nothing if not timely.

Speaking of which-those avid listeners who stayed until the evening?s end got an unexpected earful, as Elio Villafranca was invited back on stage to sit in with both McCloud and Parson. It harkened, for a moment, back to a time when the unprepared pairing of musicians on stage could produce extraordinary sparks. It truly did in this case, as the young pianist played for the first time with the more experienced duo-their collective take on ?Softly As In A Morning Sunrise" was, well, timeless. Villafranca, had no trouble exploring an Afro-Cuban groove on the hoary standard, giving it new life. Bassist McCloud was swinging on this, while Dion Parson had seemingly replaced his drum kit with a set of timbales-vaya! When they came off the stand, the three musicians-the two veterans and the respectful but talented newcomer-were all laughing, sweating, and congratulating one another. Through the music, they had managed to transport all who heard them to some other place, some other time.

Will it happen again? At another Sunday Serenade? And will you be there? Time will tell...
- Arnie Perez
Date Review Title
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