Jazz on a Spring Afternoon in the Financial District
It may have been lunchtime, but Winard Harper and Jeli Posse conjured up a hot, crowded Jersey City jazz joint atmosphere at St. Paul’s Chapel downtown earlier today. One of the most evocative, erudite, extrovert drummers around for more than a quarter century thought aloud about how to bottle that energy into a single hour, then said the hell with that and went well over time. The crowd was a lot more sizeable than usual and everybody seemed grateful to stick around.
He kicked off the show with a long, mighty press roll, a big regal cymbal splash, and the band suddenly found themselves in a languid, expressive take of Ellington’s In a Sentimental Mood, fueled by Nick Masters’ expansive piano and Anthony Perez’s tersely percolating bass. Harper immediately felt the room and kept a delicate swing going with his brushes. He had extra rhythm this time out: tapdancer AC Lincoln, plus Gabriel Roxbury on djembe, alongside guitarist Charlie Sigler, who built to a tantalizing flurry in tandem with the bandleader.
Next up was a Harper original, possibly titled Sajda, the drummer getting it rolling with a lively, intricate solo on his balafon, dueling with the tap and djembe rhythms that bounced off the walls. Piano and guitar joined in emphatically and then backed away before the horns – Ted Chubb on trumpet and Anthony Ware on tenor sax -ran a steady, stabbing Afrobeat riff. There was restrained joy in Harper’s solo over a majestically rippling piano backdrop and a devious false ending, winding down to a misterious brook at the end.
The band shifted between cloudbursting High Romantic piano and bluesy swing from the horns in the third number, Cedar Walton’s Holy Land, with a gruff, no-nonsense sax solo while Harper shifted the landing zone around. A bubbling trumpet solo, a tap solo with some artful allusions to what a full drumkit would do, and a determinedly clustering guitar solo fueled a big coda. From there the band swung through a similarly purist, blues-infused piano solo, a brisk, incisive bass solo punctuated by some judiciously juicy chords and then Harper doing his own tap imitation up to a big vortex of beats.
He introduced his old boss Dr. Billy Taylor’s Capricious with a misty clave before the horns supplied a balmy cha-cha, and eventually a carefree conversation as the cymbals steamed up the windows – metaphorically speaking, anyway. Abdullah Ibrahim’s Water From an Ancient Well was next, Harper reminiscing about playing a two-week stand with the pianist at the old Sweet Basil. Masters set a glistening mood, Harper introducing a sotto-voce clave for the horns’ fond harmonies and a soulful, low-key, Sonny Rollins-ish solo from Ware.
They stuck with a latin rhythm but picked up the pace significantly with a racewalking take of a Harper original to wind up the show with blazing sax and trumpet solos, and a lustrously chordal solo from Masters, the bandleader spinning but resisting the urge to knock down the walls. They wound up the afternoon out with a swaying, somewhat muted gospel-infused triumph,
The next jazz concert at St. Paul’s Chapel is April 24 at 1 PM with drummer Jerome Jennings and jazz poet Naomi Extra‘s Get Free Collective; admission is free. And Harper has resumed his weekly Friday and Sunday jazz jams at Moore’s Lounge at 189 Monticello Ave in Jersey City.