Single players find it at times but I think it can be even more dramatic when it happens in an ensemble situation. But even better: when a group of players use that locked-in state as only a starting point, letting the music swell and diminish, stretching the boundaries rhythm and melody, letting the music breathe.
This is very much about trust, too. Trust that your fellow players are confident and at ease in their place in the music, that they will support you when you stretch those things to their limit and will be there to hold you up through the journey of discovery and when you return to a more even plane. They do that in many ways, with musical questions and answers, letting the person doing the improvising know that they are in a safe place, no matter what. And that is one of the greatest things any musician can feel. The result is joy.
I was privileged to witness this on the highest level the other night at another of David Isenberg’s house concerts in nearby Woods Hole. Yet again David managed to book another of the bright shining lights of jazz, singer Cyrille Aimée accompanied by pianist David Torkanowsky and bass player Lex Warshawsky. Their jazz chops were impeccable but that doesn’t even begin to describe what they did together. The material ranged from jazz standards to Latin-influenced tunes, an original or two, and even a cover of a Stephen Sondheim song that the composer himself loved. The faster tunes featured Cyrille’s incredible command of scat singing, something that can seem forced and even aimless in lesser hands. Not with Cyrille. Her voice is truly an incredible instrument and her improvisation is soulful, surprising and as close to perfect as I’ve ever heard. Long, fluid lines that responded to the bass and piano, sometimes leading them, sometimes following…. At times I was left wondering if that lady even needs to breathe at all!
But for me, jazz ballads are the true test of any singer in that realm. Her reading of “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life” was sublime and especially “I’ll Be Seeing You” were as filled with pure and real emotion as I’ve ever heard from any musician doing those classics. The solos taken by Torkanowsky and Warshawsky in those songs perfectly captured those emotions with the subtle nuances: like all great improvisers when doing ballads, they knew that phrasing and even occasional silence can be just as impactful as complex riffs and harmonies.
Most of all I have to get back to that word above: joy. Watching the musicians interact and the almost constant smiles on their faces could not but draw the audience into their world and I can say with certainty that we all were grateful for that privilege.
Peace & good music,