The Canyoneers 8 a.m., Dec. 19
Mundell Lowe & Jim Ferguson: A Purity of Expression
One of the greatest things about jazz as an art-form is that you can never tell where, or when something truly magical might happen.
I've developed an intense appreciation for the work of guitarist Mundell Lowe over the last few years. Lowe has the kind of c.v. to die for: Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, Billie Holliday represent the tip of his iceberg. He continues to grow as a musician even though he turned 90 a few months back.
All of that stuff makes for good "copy" as they say — but it's not what keeps me coming back to his gigs.
Lowe has achieved a purity of essence in his playing that is nothing short of astonishing. He has an intimate relationship to practically every tune in the massive Great American Songbook — as well as a tangible understanding of the bebop language--yet his sound has evolved into a super-modern aesthetic. You don't hear any traces of the extraneous in Lowe's improvisations--it's all purely musical.
When I saw he was doing this late afternoon gig with Nashville bassist/vocalist Jim Ferguson-- I really didn't know what to expect. Ferguson is an unfamiliar name to me--and the fact that he plays string bass and sings, gave me some scary premonitions of a Dickie Smothers kind of affair.
I should have known that Mundy is far too hip for that.
Ferguson is a major talent, a sublime bassist who's note selection and spontaneous line creation were in lock-step synchronicity with Lowe's languid swing--and his voice is a spectacular instrument--a high tenor reminiscent of an in-tune and more powerful Chet Baker.
Opening with "Gone With The Wind," Ferguson's clear voice hovered above the clean lines, warm tones and exquisitely paced chords of the guitarist. At first, one had to struggle to hear his bass--that was somewhat mitigated when he turned his amp on--although I could have used a lot more Ferguson in the mix in general.
On "Rockin' Chair," Ferguson's note selection and the quality of his time blended so well with Lowe that it seemed like one huge instrument was being played. When it came time for his solo--it was the epitome of story-telling--so much so, that you could hear him wrapping it up well before he actually did.
Lowe began "Haunted Heart," with a gentle Latin groove, supporting Ferguson's supple vibrato that never strained at any note. The guitarist distilled his solo down to the most essential elements--and when he brushed a few simple chords in--it was like being swept away.
I don't know how Ferguson is able to play complex, shifting improvisations on the bass while singing above it--he must have some serious left/right brain control, the point is he does both with a maddeningly casual sense of ease and expertise.
The bassist unveiled some pithy originals with wry lyrics like "Walking The Dog," and "Not Just Another Pretty Bass," which was clever enough to set off laughter in the crowd and his delivery of the Mose Allison classic, "I Don't Worry About A Thing (Because Nothing's Gonna Be Alright)" was killing, all the way.
Then there were the breathtaking moments, such as the duo's give-and-take exploration of "Darn That Dream," where the melody seemed to come from everywhere.
This isn't the kind of music I normally gravitate to-- I'm much more prone to explore free-jazz--but great music is great music, regardless of labels and genres, and I would love to hear these two again.
Another gem from Chuck Perrin.
Photo by Dr. LeRoy Henry