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  • Glenn Siegel

The Creativity Never Stops: Dan Weiss Trio

Even though our Jazz Shares season was chock full when drummer Dan Weiss asked if we’d be interested in hosting his trio, I immediately said “yes”. After all, he was proposing a concert with alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and pianist Matt Mitchell in support of his new recording, Even Odds. I can’t think of three more creative and virtuosic musicians on their respective instruments, and since we specialize in presenting the best of the best, we squeezed them in. The 95 people who filled Newhouse Hall at the Community Music School of Springfield on April 29 were glad we did.


Since his 2015 appearance with Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers Ensemble, Weiss has visited western Massachusetts with Michael Dessen’s Trio, Jon Iragabon’s Quartet and, in a mind boggling duet,  guitarist Miles Okazaki. Weiss is more than a talented drummer. He is a composer and conceptualist, who constructs frameworks in which to pour his ideas.


Many composers build pieces from the piano, where chords and key changes can be explored. For this project, Weiss did most of his composing from his drum kit, where he first established the rhythmic scaffolding. Originals titled “Bu” (a tribute to Art Blakey) and “Max Roach” illustrated his reverence for past masters. Weiss encouraged us to check out Roach’s eight-bar drum break on Charlie Parker’s "Klact-Oveeseds-Tene", which inspired his piece. Weiss is a connoisseur of recorded jazz and a student of its history. He spoke about gigs at The Bop Shop, a Rochester, NY record shop and venue, where he spent considerable resources beefing up his collection.


The exceptions to Weiss’ unique compositional process were the two gorgeous ballads we heard: “The Children of Uvalde” and “Fathers and Daughters”. Both highlighted the round, burnished tone of Zenón’s alto, who used simple declarative statements at modest volume to convey maximum emotion. Zenón, who in the past week added a prestigious Doris Duke award to his Grammy, MacArthur and Guggenheim honors, is a modest, self-effacing genius who seemed unfazed by the accolades. These days, Zenón rarely appears as a sideman, but I’m guessing he committed to this nine-day tour that took him to Springfield, MA, New York, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Toronto and Philadelphia, because of the respect he has for Weiss and Mitchell, and because of the challenge and reward the music provided. It was a great honor to meet and host Zenón, who is now an Assistant Professor of Music at MIT, and one of Puerto Rico’s great gifts to the world of music.


Like Weiss, and seemingly half of all Jazz Shares musicians, Matt Mitchell lives in Brooklyn, and like Weiss, he has been a regular visitor over the years. The pianist performed in 2012 with Dave Douglas’ Quintet in Jazz Shares’ first season, and has made subsequent trips to the Valley with Anna Webber’s Simple Trio, Jon Iragabon’s Quartet and Miles Okazaki’s Trickster. On two of the more complex, up tempo pieces: “It Is What It Is” and “Five To Nine”, Mitchell provided the backbone and a dazzling display of hand independence. Like his bandmates, he is a superb technician who only uses his prodigious talent when it serves the music. Nate Chinen’s description of him as “a pianist of burrowing focus”, is apt and accurate, and it’s hard to argue with Will Layman of PopMatters, who called him "the most complete and well-integrated improvising pianist of the last 15 years."


Weiss leads Starebaby, an unconventional amalgam of doom metal and electronic music, featuring Craig Taborn, Matt Mitchell and Trevor Dunn. He is an accomplished tabla player, who has translated his studies with his guru, Samir Chatterjee to drum kit (see Tintal Drumset Solo - and Jhaptal Drumset Solo). He has led big bands of original material (see Sixteen: Drummers Suite and Fourteen). That’s all in addition to a slew of leader credits in more conventional settings, and a busy schedule of sideman work with some of the leading lights of jazz. With the possible exception of Ches Smith, Weiss has a wider musical palette than any current improvising drummer. I’m confident prestigious awards will be coming his way, and glad that we get to experience his evolution on a regular basis. 




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