The Jazz.com Blog
March 11, 2009 · 18 comments
Roanna Forman, who covers the Boston jazz scene for jazz.com, is one of the most astute critics on the scene. In recent weeks, she has reported on Jimmy Heath’s appearance at Scullers and Brad Mehldau's Harvard concert with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. Now she turns her attention to a performance last week by Stan Sagov at Boston’s Regattabar. T.G.
Stan Sagov is one of those remarkable people who effectively juggle two of the most demanding pursuits in the world. A physician by day, he’s a dedicated jazz player at night. Now in his mid-sixties, Sagov has been playing since he was 16. (It all started with that R&B band…) He has considerable musicianship—the result of diligent, serious practice; study with Jaki Byard at New England Conservatory; and good absorption of the jazz idiom. He also does some nice original writing, examples of which the band played in their early set at Boston’s Regattabar on March 4.
That said, the music I heard exhibited Sagov’s major problem, one that a studio recording can adjust away but a live performance can’t. He needs to learn Rule #1 of ensemble playing—listen and complement, but don’t overplay, either by being too busy or too loud. This was the problem throughout the evening, to the detriment of every tune but the last one.
It was distracting to a fault. Conceivably, it was nerves, because the CDs have a better balance (and also a sound engineer to mix each track). Anyway, the live show really sounded as though there was a loud player on one side of the bandstand who was doing his own thing, and a well-tempered, blending band on the other. Sagov comped too hard on the opening tune “Layers of Jazz Memory,” an original funk and swing groove, stepped on reeds player Stan Strickland’s sweet, well-constructed lines in Steve Swallow’s “Falling Grace,” and made it hard for me to enjoy the tenor sax wailing on “Swamp Blues.” Even the drummer was not exempt. Bob Moses’s single solo, light and airy at the beginning, then gradually filled with increasing intricacies toward climax, got mugged at the very end. I cannot blame the sound man, Sagov just came on too strong.
Moses, a faculty member of New England Conservatory, is a key part of 20th century jazz history—he was the drummer who helped bring Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life to life, and his other credits are extensive. Moses’s playing on this set was calibrated, tune by tune to the feel of each song and the mood of the players. He kept his drums soft when warranted, to a subtle, just perceptible rhythm, but you always heard him. Or he’d bring it up as needed, then sometimes attenuate to finish on an ending, like a good driver who knows just when and how to accelerate and brake.
As a pianist, Stan Sagov can establish a good groove, and his playing was competent in the live performance, but I think he made more interesting music on his CDs. Nevertheless, he writes some fine tunes. On “South African Curry,” a “bootie scooter,” as Stan Strickland called it, Sagov got the band going with a kicky synthesizer introduction. “Miles Behind,” which shows clear affection for and influence of later Miles Davis, has a beautiful, catchy, virile head played by the horns.
Mike Peipman picked up on the Milesian influences and harmonies at times, as with the long lines he used over Sagov’s effects on the meandering drone of “Units of Length” and “Ghana.” But he was hardly a Miles Davis clone. Swinging on flugelhorn in “For All We Know,” sliding through fast runs and repeated figures on “Layers of Jazz Memory,” and tossing back quick, cupped trumpet responses to Strickland’s tenor wailing on the “Swamp Blues,” he showed a feel for many styles and was musically solid and coherent.
On reeds, Stan Strickland, a longtime figure on the Boston music and entertainment scene, did some good work, from classic blues lines on “Swamp Runs” to Coltranesque runs on “Layers of Jazz Memory.” Strickland also sings. Luckily, his intonation live was better than some of the self-indulgent improvisation on Sagov’s first CD, although he did have some lapses pitch-wise on “For All We Know.” With scat reminiscent of Betty Carter and an over-the-top meditation on nature during the blues number, he definitely kept the audience scooting their booties. Meanwhile, John Lockwood, a South African-born compatriot of Sagov’s, kept it together with his still-waters-run-deep presence and rich bass playing, one of the happy consistencies of the Boston jazz scene.
To close, Stan Strickland picked up a bass flute and led the band into “Blue in Green.” Here, the piano finally chilled, playing some good fluid right hand lines to support the trumpet. Mike Peipman made this gorgeous tune his own, taking it out haltingly, like a gasp from Miles’s spirit.
This blog entry posted by Roanna Forman