Bass (Mark Helias)/Drum (Gerry Hemingway)/ Bone (Ray Anderson) has been a working unit for thirty years now, holding up longer than many marriages, and their current tour is an ongoing celebration. Last night the FlynnSpace audience was particularly fortunate to be on hand to hear a generous set of their original new material, some of which is apparently still in development. This meant that there was nothing tired or overly familiar to be heard. This trio came on fresh as a daisy.
Bass/Drum/Bone is a jazz photographer's wet dream. So where were they all last night? You've heard of poetry in motion? That's Gerry Hemingway. Except for Max Roach, I can't think of another drummer/percussionist who knows every inch of his trap drums better than Hemingway, and his mastery of it is thrilling to watch.
Mark Helias also proves that jazz playing is one of the greatest of spectator sports. Every spare note of his solos counts for a lot, and he gives full due to melody. His stage presence is totally assured; a solid figure with shaved head, he's like Yul Brynner turned bassist. But more to the point, he knows his bandmates' technique almost better than his own.
Ray Anderson has become a favorite of DJF regulars over time, and there was a lot of talk in the audience about his previous appearances with the Pocket Brass Band, SlideRide, etc. It seemed too as if nearly every extroverted trombonist in Central Vermont turned out for the show. What was absent was Ray Anderson as the consummate vaudeville entertainer of yore. (Some time back he spoke of a need to stop singing, and it looks like he has.) Instead, he was everything a slide trombone master should be, playing with grace and feeling, demonstrating the full range of his demanding instrument.
This group can spend extended time with textural and timbral explorations, blowing tones and sketching sound patterns, then swing and sing like crazy. They like to fool us; we don't know where we're going but it's a good trip. It's impossible to get bored, and it's hard to avoid being caught up in the fun. So congratulations to the Festival Board for getting them here.