Dan Wall Trio Bop, Donít Stop
Oberlin was well represented at the Cleveland Bop Stop’s classy, laid-back scene on Friday night. On stage was the Dan Wall Trio, composed of Visiting Assistant Professor of Jazz Piano Dan Wall, Adjunct Professor of Jazz Percussion Jamey Haddad, and bassist Kip Reed. The venue was respectably full, including some 15 to 20 Oberlin jazz students, who listened in admiration, occasionally breaking the respectful silence with little, involuntary utterances of appreciation.
The Trio started off their first set with the standard “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” which Wall ripped into without hesitation. His long, swinging lines sat just a hair behind the beat and created an incredible melodic attitude. Wall is primarily known outside of Oberlin as a Hammond organ player, but his piano playing is just as fearsome.
“To me, it’s a shame that people like Dan aren’t really as known as they should be in jazz. Not a lot of people know Dan, but the people who know him, know,” said junior jazz pianist Sullivan Fortner.
On “22 Bar Waltz,” the band played easily, making the unusual form seem completely natural. A spat of trading with Haddad invoked some of the spirit of The Bad Plus.
Haddad was in particularly good form all night. His approach was that of a percussionist playing drum set, especially in his taste for the color of a sound and the shape of a phrase. He is typically a drummer of polyrhythm-filled world music from the Middle East, India and Africa, which has an obvious influence on his set playing. Yet his musicality was so nuanced and sensitive that, in Wall’s trio, he did not drop the groove for a second, and the rhythmic modulations in his solos worked only to open more possibilities for Reed and Wall.
As the night went on, the trio explored different styles and musical experiments. At one point, Haddad slipped into a funky stick and rim groove. A response crawled Monk-like out of the piano, and so began a section with the feel and attitude of free improvisation. Open-ended musing from all three musicians followed; it was possible to hear them thinking out loud, improvising without inhibition. Then Haddad seized the moment and took an aggressive, beautiful solo.
At one point, Haddad pulled out a Middle Eastern frame drum and moved into an infectious, earthy, odd-metered groove. A short while later, strange sounds began coming out of the piano – plucked, muted, eastern sounds. Wall had prepared the piano via a piece of paper inserted beneath the hammers and was playing a sitar-like riff to Haddad’s odd rhythm. The effect was transporting and disjunctive; it felt like we had suddenly shifted place and time. It seemed impossible, yet inexpressibly right.
A wonderful example of Dan Wall’s virtuosity was his extended cadenza at the end of “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” Every phrase he played contained as many as six interpolations, often including quotes from songs he’d played earlier in the evening. It was clear that Wall was intensely aware of his musical freedom, almost gleefully conscious of his decision to play one thing and not another.
“In my opinion, he’s just brilliant,” said Fortner. “He’ll make you laugh and cry at the same time. It’s the sound that he gets out of the piano. His approach is completely different. He’s not afraid to explore new parameters.”
An arrangement of “I’ll Remember You” by renowned Boston-based saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi (with whom Wall toured as an organist) followed. Bergonzi’s hand was evident in the re-harmonization, transforming the standard into something completely new. Reed sounded especially good on this tune, maneuvering the chord changes with facility and soul.
Over the course of the night, The Dan Wall Trio took on the guise of a wide variety of ensembles; they were alternately a straight-ahead piano trio, a free jazz ensemble, a blues band and a world music outfit. There is no doubt that Dan Wall and his ensemble have the creativity and flexibility to push the boundaries of improvised music.
The Bop Stop features the Theo Croker Quintet, an ensemble of Oberlin jazz students, on Friday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m.