Hearts & Minds is a good name for the trio that performed at this season’s second Pioneer Valley Jazz Shares concert on Saturday, October 13. The music made by Jason Stein, bass clarinet, Paul Giallorenzo, keyboards, and Chad Taylor, drums, appealed to both body and brain, confirming what non-Westerners have known for millennia: that the separation between mind and body represents a false dichotomy. Their Shea Theater performance engaged all facets of what makes humans human.
Featuring music from their brand-new release, Electroradiance, the Chicago-based ensemble ripped through an 80-minute set that included long stretches of funk and groove-based playing over which some very modern sounds were laid.
“Splatter and squawk meet slithering keyboard riffs,” is how Ben Remsen described their music in the Chicago Reader. With Giallorenzo’s left hand laying down the law on synth bass and Taylor sub-dividing infectious beats with the ease of an Olympian, the music was rooted in an earthy swing. That freed Giallorenzo’s right hand to color and smudge, or play unison heads with Stein on his e-pianet. For his part, Stein improvised across stylistic decades and myriad moods, employing a full range of honks, double-tonguing, tone-splitting and other extended techniques, along with a rich, mahogany sound as warm as fine sherry.
It’s not often I present a concert that so closely follows the contour of a recording, down to the order of the pieces. But the compositions, by each of the members, were so catchy, and so memorable, that the formula was quite welcome. My subsequent dive into the CD (also released on cassette by the fabulous Austin, Texas-based label, Astral Spirits) confirms the magnitude of the accomplishment.
Although there was plenty of density and swirling cacophony throughout the evening, I kept thinking how accessible these songs would be to a young, Indie-pop listening audience. Perhaps that’s not so surprising given the age of the musicians (early to mid-40s), the ready ways the Chicago rock and jazz scenes rub shoulders (Taylor has toured with Iron & Wine,) and the skills Stein developed playing to large arena-size audiences, opening for his sister, comedian Amy Schumer.
It’s all about understanding hooks, things that stick in the mind; appreciating the importance of melody, little phrases, snippets of sound we end up humming. Hearts & Minds gets it. Stein’s “Frencher Frosty’s Book,” which came roughly half-way through evening (track 5), was a beautiful, open-hearted anthem that welled me up.
Giallorenzo’s four compositions all had that certain something. In his band GitGo, his memorable lines fit largely within the hard bop world. With Hearts & Mind, Sun Ra, Larry Young and Hermeto all figure.
We happened to be listening to Hermeto at my house before the performance. Chad Taylor told us about a chance airport meeting he had with the brilliant Brazilian musician, whom Taylor admired but did not know. Hermeto wrote some music on a napkin for him, which sat in his pocket for a long time. When he found it sometime later, Taylor was blown away. His composition, “Hermeto,” based on those napkin notes, is found on Boca Negra, a recording by the hugely influential Chicago Underground Duo, a band Taylor co-founded with Rob Mazurek.
Taylor related another tale from that airport encounter: Hermeto told Taylor that in the late 1960s, he would follow Miles Davis everywhere around New York. One day, Davis finally talked to him, asking if he could box. Hermeto, cross-eyed from birth, said sure. In the ring, Davis was having his way with the ill-prepared neophyte when Hermeto landed a haymaker. Next thing you know, he was asked to join the band. Hermeto appears on and contributed three tunes to Live/Evil (1971.)
That storytelling ability, which many jazz artists possess, translates to the stage, where the trio wove an exuberant narrative about the joys of taking risks and the triumph of beauty. Our Jazz Shares concert was the third of ten celebrating the release of their new recording. I’m sure while the song’s details changed from night to night, the impact on hearts and minds remained.