Ian Anderson 2:30 p.m., Feb. 18
Vibraphone Summit at the new Dizzy's
Tim McMahon, Anthony Smith and Pat Burke each brought their own personality to the instrument.
The new Dizzy's hosted the Vibraphone Summit last Sunday, bringing three top exponents to share their music with an all-star rhythm section.
Tim McMahon, alongside Anthony Smith, with Pat Burke, manned the mallets, while guitarist Peter Sprague, bassist Rob Thorsen, and drumset monster Duncan Moore kept the non-bell-tone action solid.
McMahon, Smith and Burke began with an elliptical reading of Wayne Shorter's "Speak No Evil," which featured intricate layers of vibe interplay over Burke's marimba.
McMahon began his set with a dreamy rumination on "Body & Soul," eking gorgeous resonant clouds of harmony before shelving two mallets to swing through "Make Someone Happy," which gave Sprague a chance to burn on tangential arpeggios with chromatic connectors over the implacable time of Thorsen and Moore. The vibraphonist impressed me the most when striking out against the grain--creating a tension that made his swing more effective and dramatic. He finished with a languid original blues, "Soul Vibe," which benefited greatly from his Milt Jackson-esque skeletal phraseology. Sprague followed with some furious bopping before Thorsen stole the show by slowing it way down.
Anthony Smith's set opened with an uptempo romp on "You Don't Know What Love Is," filled with spry ostinati that set up an ebullient four-mallet solo with a rococo sense of ornamentation. Moore ratcheted up the tension on the vamp out, with a series roiling disruptions.
Sprague's beautiful, improvised chord-melody intro to Smith's "Samba Pequeninos," led into an intense and intricate melody that found the guitarist spitting notes out with machine-gun velocity before Smith answered with flying mallets of his own--the speed of which often made his hands blurry to my eyes. The highpoint of his set was a gorgeous waltz titled "Don, Are You Listening?", which found him setting a sublime mix of expansive technique with celebratory storytelling. The band really functioned as a unit on this one--grooving on Thorsen's groaning whole-notes and Moore's shimmering cymbal work. Smith delivered an impressive cadenza at the end, which dropped a few jaws in the process.
Burke provided a much different aesthetic in his set, which began with "Take It From Me," sailing along on an easy swing, taking his time to elucidate simpler themes with a two mallet approach that favored a bluesier dynamic. Milt Jackson's "Heartstrings," was next, a ballad that crept slowly, leaving lots of open space for delicious slices of stripped-down ideas that never veered far from the blues.
Sprague's harp-like arpeggios introduced "Crystal Silence," while Burke spun webs of gauzy, four-mallet harmony, tossing individual notes with delicate care and lifting ideas into motion all around.
It was really great to hear how differently these three players approached the same instrument.
Photo by Barbara Wise