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Teresa Inês, Joe Maneri, Dave Frishberg, Christian McBride, Charlie Haden & Kenny Barron

The jazz week had to compete with Arctic temperatures and the New England Patriots, but audiences still found their way to the clubs, and to a typically varied palette: Brazilian-born vocalist Teresa Inês, avant-garde old lion Joe Maneri, jazz songwriter Dave Frishberg, funk-minded virtuoso bassist Christian McBride, and the sublime venerable duo of Charlie Haden and Kenny Barron.

Inês is part of the crowd of expatriate South Americans who regularly show up on the Regattabar schedule and whose personnel often overlap. Over the past several years, she’s been able to develop a band from this pool of local musicians; they complement her classic bossa-style songwriting, matching the light dance grooves of samba and bossa with transparent textures, jazz harmonies, and balanced arrangements. Celebrating her new self-released Ave Rara/Rare Bird at the Regattabar on that sub-zero night a week ago Thursday, Inês impressed not only with her songwriting, her sure-footed rhythms, and her floating contralto but with a distinctive ensemble sound. This isn’t just a singer with a backing band; she has a fully integrated ensemble.

As is common in bossa nova, Inês often sings introductory verses wordlessly in unison with other front-line instruments — in this case Fernando Brandão’s flute and Nando Michelin’s piano, with harmonizations from bassist Fernando Huergo and occasionally her own acoustic guitar. When jazz flutists aren’t providing mere decoration, they’re often overblowing their solos — hitting shrill glissandi and high notes or taking rhythmic and harmonic hairpin turns as if to prove themselves the weighty equal of the trumpets and saxophones on the front line. (The flute is often the "second" instrument of saxophonists.) If Brandão is one of the most satisfying jazz flutists I’ve heard, that’s in large part because of what he doesn’t do. He creates a powerful presence by dint of his clear articulation and full tone, and through the coherence of his lines. Not a moonlighting saxophonist, he’s a specialist, and he alternated among soprano, alto, and bass flutes all evening.

It’s also clear why electric bassist Huergo shows up in so many local Latin-based bands — he has a light touch with grooves and a trombone-like tone when expanding the harmonies. Pianist Michelin also stretched harmonic boundaries without tearing the fabric of Inês’s songs. Meanwhile, drummer Steve Langone worked with Huergo to keep the rhythms driving but understated, augmenting his trap kit with an egg shaker, sometimes playing with bare hands, and on one tune keeping time on his snare with a pair of chopsticks.

Inês mixed impressive originals with a couple of standards by Antonio Carlos Jobim and Baden Powell, and she thanked the audience for its willingness to listen to an unfamiliar language. Her introductions provided context (longing for Rio, the wishes for her newborn son). And she explained that the nonsense song "Paris" mixed "Portuguese words with a French accent or French words with a Portuguese accent."

A DASH ACROSS TOWN to Zeitgeist Gallery in Inman Square revealed another kind of ensemble balance. Joe Maneri, the septuagenarian sage of microtonal jazz, has a résumé that includes lengthy study with Arnold Schoenberg. His 1963 recording of "Paniot’s Nine" is featured in American Splendor, the docudrama about one of his most fervent advocates over the years, cartoonist/jazz critic Harvey Pekar. At the tiny Zeitgeist, in front of about 30 people, the portly, bald, white-bearded Maneri sat on a folding chair and led a trio with two of his New England Conservatory students, pianist James Carson and drummer Mike Johnson, like a happy old wizard.

Everything Maneri’s trio played in its second set was a spontaneous improvisation, but this was not the pummeling free jazz of yore. Yes, Johnson defined the free-jazz "pulse" of non-metric phrasing, and Carson’s staccato chord clusters recalled Cecil Taylor. But this was music full of delicate gestures outlined by the aura of silence. Maneri’s alto saxophone veered into between-the-crack pitches that are the hallmark of microtonalism, and he delivered his meditations in short-breathed phrases that mimicked speech. On clarinet, he would suggest vaguely folkloric dancing figures (he’s a Greek-music adept), and he’d alternate deep chalumeau tones with a wispy upper register. Carson and Johnson were sensitive throughout, and Maneri left them plenty of room. On one tune that had a vaguely beboppish cast to it, Johnson built up a strong pulse with kick drum and snare. He moved into a powerful roll on the snare that ended not with a bomb but with a soft cymbal stroke, provoking a laugh from Maneri that ended the tune. "We don’t need a lot of people," he said. "We just need us."

SATURDAY NIGHT started with a trip out to Newton Centre to catch Dave Frishberg at the Jewish Theatre of New England. A comedian opened, but he was unnecessary — Frishberg is his own best warm-up act. This 70-year-old is a jazz musician who plays and sings his own songs. His lyrics and key modulations echo the Broadway songwriters whom he adores from the first half of the last century. He frames his lyrics in beautiful swing-piano solos with touches of stride; he follows up a comic line with a whole-tone pratfall down the keyboard. In Newton, in a set that lasted about an hour, he played and sang 14 songs that included "I’ve Been Living Too Long in L.A." ("I just got off the 405/I was lucky to get off alive"); his soundtrack hit that-never-was, "Jaws" ("Jaws — why are there tears in your tiny eyes"); his "cowboy song" "Old Oklahoma Toad"; his anti-war "blues" "My Country Used To Be" ("As America marches into action with its weapons of mass distraction"); "I Want To Be a Sideman" ("just a highly qualified man"); and "Van Lingo Mungo," a song whose lyrics constitute the rhyming names of lesser-known baseball players. There was also the song he calls his most requested, "My Attorney Bernie": "I’m impressed with my attorney Bernie . . . Bernie says, ‘Sue,’ we sue/Bernie says, ‘Sign,’ we sign."

Frishberg’s wit and lineage express themselves obliquely. When the trombonist Dan Barrett gave him "Eastwood Lane," a piece of music named for the American composer, he felt compelled to write lyrics about an imaginary place ("like Brigadoon or Oz") rather than a real person. When he sings the song and refers to the "chirp chirp chirp of the bluebird" and the "whoop whoop whoop of the crane," you might lag a bit in making the connection to Cole Porter’s "Night and Day." And when he sings one of his "serious" songs, like "Heart’s Desire" or "Listen Here" (originally written for Mary Tyler Moore), you can hear the touching core of his work — there’s a little of Frishberg in everyone he writes about, from Bernie to Van Lingo Mungo.

AFTER FRISHBERG, it was a race down the Mass Pike and Soldiers Field Road to catch 31-year-old bassist Christian McBride at Scullers. McBride has been a musical polymath from the start, with training in classical and jazz, and practical experience playing funk and R&B in his native Philadelphia. At Scullers — as has been his wont in the past few years — he was having it both ways in a second set that included the Spinners’ "I’m Comin’ Home," a dedication to hard-bop vibes great Bobby Hutcherson, his own sometimes oversweet "Lullaby for Ladybug," and the old Joe Zawinul Weather Report rave-up "Boogie Woogie Waltz."

There was plenty of razzle-dazzle in this band. Pianist Geoff Keezer doubled on synthesizer and organ, producing satisfying funky swells of harmony with the latter. Drummer Terreon Gulley was a powerhouse, keeping a furious metronomic funk rhythm on hi-hat while shifting accents around with his snare and kick drum and trading licks with saxophonist Ron Blake. McBride’s acoustic bass alternated between lightning speed and breath-like cadences, but his tone wasn’t as mellow as it used to be — perhaps it was coarsened by the tough acoustics of the club.

There were fireworks all around, but it was really Gulley who was the smash of the set with his fierce, precise syncopations.

"THE PATRIOTS WON, RIGHT?" bassist Charlie Haden asked after playing the first tune of his 7 o’clock set with pianist Kenny Barron at the Regattabar on Sunday. And added, "As we say in the jazz world: ‘Solid, Jackson.’ "

The 66-year-old Haden and the 60-year-old Barron were playing their second set of the day, and they were indeed worlds away from Foxboro. Their tempos were mostly medium-to-slow, and they played standard song forms. Barron sticks within a tonal, bebop vocabulary, but in his hands, that vocabulary is limitless. He can play 20 choruses of a standard like "For Heaven’s Sake" and never repeat an idea. By the time he and Haden got to Dizzy Gillespie’s "Bebop," he was exploding with those ideas. This one was medium-up, and Barron disassembled Gillespie’s angular tune, repeated it in fragments, double-timed it. Haden had mixed up his timekeeping with the ballads and with his own "Ruth’s Waltz," sounding the downbeats, then resting, then catching up again. But here he walked his first hard 4/4 of the night, and Barron reveled in it, stretching his lines like taffy, punctuating silken single-note runs with lush block chords, then sending both hands tumbling down the keyboard in whole-tone gaps.

Haden, meanwhile, used his broad, soft tone to extend the harmonic and rhythmic breadth of each piece, so that it took up space and filled the room. When he solo’d, he avoided bass-virtuoso speed drills and even shied away from his more abstract repertoire of slurs and drones, instead plucking deliberate rhythmic and melodic variations, as if on a search. "Wouldn’t it be great if all the football fans in the United States loved beautiful music?" he asked.

Issue Date: January 23 - 29, 2004
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