Survey of Jazz Concert Report By: James Berry It’s Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got that Swing! Frim Fram Four It is a dark night on the streets of Boise, and I am on the quest to find decent live jazz in this budding metropolis of the Rockies. My previous attempt during the Gene Harris Festival was not as successful, as I went from place to place not spending enough time at one venue to truly get a good sense of the music. From the jam band to reggae version of ‘Round Midnight, I was looking for something a bit more fulfilling. My journey began this Tuesday evening at the Milky Way on 10th street – kind of an upper class place where you feel more comfortable ordering a glass of wine or fancy mixed beverage than anything else, and the crowd is made up of the mid to elder jazz connoisseurs. Arriving around 8:15pm, I was there before the other younger jazz fans and I quickly sat down at one of the two tables in between the bar and the band. The band had matching white tuxedo jackets and seemed to appear right out of a 1930s era West Coast swing club. There are four gentlemen playing and the instrumentation includes a violin, piano, guitar and bass. The violinist doubles as the vocalist and the pianist doubles as a Latin percussionist. The absence of drums makes me initially wonder whether or not the band will be able to keep time and really swing together, but I will later find this not to be a problem. They finish whichever swing standard they were playing and launch into the slow swing shuffle Pennies from Heaven. It takes me a minute to recognize the tune, but the band is doing a nice job laying down the groove. The singer who I never found out
the name of sounds very similar to Dave Lambert from Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. It is relaxing, yet a full and medium deep sound. The style of jazz that the Frim Fram Four is playing on this tune is very retroswing with a steady and predictable walking bass line, quarter note shuffle chords on the jazz guitar, and bluesy standard voicings on the keyboard. After listening to lots of Thelonius Monk and John Coltrane lately, this music is the complete opposite. It is predictable, easy to listen to, and wonderful dinner music. I like the sound of the ensemble as a whole, the vocalist and I love the addition of the violin. The jazz violin is nice, but doesn’t quite swing or have the edge that Stephan Grappelli has with his sound. The violinist/vocalist does bend some notes and has very accurate pitch on this tune. The solos through out are quite standard swing solos and generally stay very close to the harmonic progressions. The guitarist is maybe the most adventurous but only with only a few interesting chromatic ideas. Following the standard Pennies from Heaven, the group launches into In a Mellow Tone – one of my favorite Duke Ellington standards. The interesting thing is that they play this tune with no vocalist and begin with a violin intro on the head. Of course most Ellington tunes swing quite naturally, but this one has a wonderful sense of the pocket to it. The pianist picks up the melody two octaves a part from the violinist and then launches into his solo. I have noticed that the pianist plays in somewhat of a Basie style – not overplaying, and doubling the melody a few octaves a part on occasion. I would say his playing is maybe a Count Basie – Ray Charles – and twenty percent of Oscar Peterson sound. He doesn’t have nearly the chops of Eldar, who I heard at Lionel Hampton, but has some nice tasty blues licks. The guitar solo on this tune is quite cliché
in the fact that he repeats the same riff over and over. I would say this reminds me of Charlie Parker’s repeated motive on Parker’s Mood, but this guitarist doesn’t play with the barline nearly as much or have as much soul as a Parker riff. The violin solo on this tune is more creative as the violinist uses double stops to bend the pitches and play with more of an edgy sound. The bassist gets to solo as well on this tune and just plays a standard bass swing solo – nothing unique, just simple and tasteful. Heading back to the A section, the violin jumps back in as the band has timed rhythmic stops. The tune goes over well with the crowd. The next tune is Prelude to a Kiss. I’m beginning to sense a bit of theme now with the second Ellington tune in a row. Having played this chart before, I remember how the chord changes and harmonies are quite tough. The vocalist/violinist sits this one out and the trio of guitar, piano, and bass take over. This tune is mainly a piano feature and several of the rich harmonies come through. I enjoy hearing this tune, because the solos reflect the more difficult harmonic structure. The bass stays in a steady meter and I think the chart could have been a little more interesting if the feel went into double time for a measure or so. The best solo on this chart is definitely the guitar solo. It has more of a Charlie Christian sound to it, and fits the ballad well. He moves away form the harmonies for a little while and then returns to its rightful place. I’m not sure if that was purposeful. During this set, a mysterious beautiful blonde woman enters the Milky Way restaurant and sits down at my table near the band. We both appreciate the band and request a table on the balcony to dine and also listen to the band. We order our drinks and several courses to compliment the jazz. As we relocate to a table on the second level,
the band launches into It Don’t Mean A Thing, one of my absolute favorite jazz standards. They begin this tune with the violin having the melody and then the vocalist takes over. The crowd is familiar with this one and responds appropriately. The guitar solo is first and he nails it right away. In the middle, I hear a lick that sounds very similar to the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Django. I’m not sure if it was purposeful, but it fit right into the chord changes well. The piano solo was next, and it was one of his best of the night. It was simple, really swung, and mainly was just a great blues solo. The same solo could have probably worked in any number of songs. While the piano solo is playing, the violinist was rhythmically playing down on his violin strings to play the backbeat. This works well as a temporary hi-hat, not having the drum set. The violin comes back on the A section at the end again with the melody in double stops. The band plays a quick outro and then rolls the last chord. Very well done. The food arrives for me and the mysterious blonde woman and as we spend our meal conversing about several various topics, I am not able to concentrate quite as well on the band, but I hear a few more interesting things before they conclude the set. They play a few Latin tunes, and one of the familiar ones I hear is Begin the Beguine. The piano player doubles on hand bongos on this one and none of the solos are flashy. This tune feels more like background music. They also play the swinging Harold Arlen tune Let’s Fall in Love with the violin and guitar switching between the main tune. The band concluded their set sometime before 10:00pm. Overall the night was a lot of fun for a Tuesday night – great jazz, great company and some tasty overpriced food. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good Tuesday night on the town in Boise, Idaho.