A new door of opportunity was kicked open by Nashville saxophonist Rahsaan Barber at the Franklin Theater on October 4, 2011. “Celebrating Our Own” was the debut showcase for “Jazz Music City,” Barber’s new production company and record label. The concert featured 12 artists and bands, mostly from this fourth generation, who will collaborate on projects supported and released by the new company. The philosophy behind this ambitious effort is clear when Rahsaan says, "There are so many different strands of music here in Nashville. There's a unique opportunity here to build a sound."
The sound of this latest jazz generation was an interesting update to the Franklin Theatre, recently renovated to a distinctly 1950’s vibe, with a high ceiling, a proscenium arch over the stage, a balcony (now the domain of local VIPs instead of smooching teenagers) atmospheric lighting, and enough broken surfaces for decent acoustics. It was gratifying to see the theatre finally achieve the multi-purpose concept of movies, live music, theatre, dance, nightclub, etc. that was attempted by the original developer who bought the property in the 1980’s (I was the architect for about 5 minutes). Subsequent owners ran it as a movie theatre until 2009. The community effort to save the theatre and re-purpose it has given Williamson County a wonderful cultural asset, and I hear that attendance for all events has been very good so far.
As the night’s MC, Rahsaan Barber made the introductions regarding his concept for the concert and his company, but his most compelling argument was a fiery lead-off performance of his tune, “Mi Descarga” by the Latin Jazz ensemble “El Movimiento” featuring himself, Imer Santiago, trumpet, Giovanni Rodriguez, percussion, Paul Horton, piano, James DaSilva, guitar, Jerry Navarro, bass, and Bob Harson, drums. The tune was 60’s hard bop goes to Cuba, and everyone’s solos showed immediately that the Nashville jazz scene is second to none and deserving of much more attendance and celebration.
Rahsaan then introduced drummer Marcus Finnie who added Mark Douthit on tenor to DaSilva, Horton, and Navarro for a version of his own “Fish and Spaghetti,” an interesting groove tune capped by a hip and intense drum solo from Marcus.
Next up was pianist/vocalist Jody Nardone with Jerry Navarro on bass and Derico Watson on drums. Re-imagining the standard “Just The Way You Look Tonight” as space jazz with a straight 8ths style rhythm. The sustained sound under the melody hung the lyrics in the air like a prayer, with the solos then muscling the bridge into a plea of intense passion.
Rahsaan’s twin brother, Roland Barber brought a quartet to the affair, with pianist Bruce Dudley, bassist Alana Rocklin, and Bob Harson back on drums. Roland introduced the tune “The Dripper” by saying he heard it from Steve Turre when he was 15. Roland’s masterful muted plunger technique turned this slow instrumental ballad into a crowd-pleasing and soulful scat “vocal.”
The smoother side of jazz was represented by pianist Michael Whittaker, with a little help from Douthit, DeSilva, Watson, and 6-string electric bassist Adam Nitti. Written for the occasion, his original “Emancipation” was a tasty bit of acoustic piano fusion with a drone sound, kind of a cross between Bruce Hornsby and the group Oregon.
Connections to the jazz past were retained with the help of pianist Bruce Dudley, who gave us a preview of a future Jazz Music City release with a solo rendition of the classic “Body and Soul.” With a soft as a breeze tempo, Dudley gave us introspection and imagination in a contemporary approach that kept turning new corners, while underneath you could still hear the tradition of great swing pianists.
A quintet appeared on stage next, led by drummer Nioshi Jackson, with Nardone on piano, Rocklin on bass, Rahsaan on alto this time, guitarist Michael Ripoll, and a young man with no instrument. As Nioshi explained, “My young son is going to sit behind me and see if he wants to be a drummer.” An untitled slow groove tune gave us funky drumming, some interesting guitar lines, and some impassioned blues cries from Rahsaan, but no word on any decision by the younger Mr. Jackson.
With the variety of music, the personable introductions, and the quality performances, the audience was thoroughly enjoying themselves after 7 performances. Number 8 was vocalist Stephanie Adington who offered her original tune, “So In Love” with Dudley, Navarro, DaSilva, and Finnie. Laid back at first, it soon became a late-night torch song rendered with grit and feeling.
It was clear that this “Fourth Generation” is not going to do much looking back, as no one had played any mainstream swing until bassist John Birdsong, in the #9 slot, offered us Ellington’s “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” John played the melody on bass, answered by pianist Michael Alvie, Finnie on drums, and the Barber Brothers on tenor and bone. A highlight of the performance was Roland’s humorous “talking bone” solo, virtually a dialogue with himself, much like Clark Terry (10 years with Ellington) used to do on 2 trumpets.
Adam Nitti then took the solo spotlight on 6-string bass and showed us why he is a young man to watch. Like the best of the new breed of multi-string electric players, he approached his fusion of several different original compositions like a composer or guitarist – the solo becomes an orchestral arrangement. He held the audience’s interest with lovely ideas and chops that were impressive without being self-indulgent.
Rahsaan then returned to the stage with a host of cats, and while they got ready he confessed his love for the old New Orleans brass band tradition. To include this sound in his Jazz Music City approach, he put it together with hip hop, rap, and (to my ears) a touch of Mariachi to create the group “The Megaphones.” Included were brother Roland, other brother Robert Barber, Jr on tenor, Chris West on baritone, Vinnie Ciesielski and Imer Santiago on trumpets, Neil Konuchi on sousaphone, D. D. Holt on drums, and Jason Waters with vocals. The hip-shaking tune was an original “Drama Queen” with the Barbers also adding background vocals.
What could you follow that with, except a grand finale, and so Rahsaan thanked all the musicians, the Franklin Theater for booking jazz, and the enthusiastic audience. You could see the nods of agreement across the seats when he mentioned that the company’s first release, “Everyday Magic” by his group of the same name, had been reviewed by DownBeat magazine with the comment, “…don’t sleep on Nashville. It’s got a scene worthy of our attention.” And then he introduced saxist Jeff Coffin (Bela Fleck, Dave Mathews Band, Mu’Tet) for the finale with Nardone, DaSilva, Navarro, Jackson, and Rahsaan on tenor. The band tore into an up tempo contemporary 4/4 with fusion-y interludes, Jeff flying on soprano, DaSilva piling lines onto the tempo, and then the rhythm laid out for Rahsaan to explore some space with piano and bass. The drums slyly snuck back in with the up tempo as Rahsaan began to burn, finally handing it off to Neoshi who made his own statement and then blasted everyone back into the head. Standing ovation.
Much credit should go to the mix and match rhythm sections that made all the artists sound like they were playing with their own road bands. Assuming that this first concert event by Jazz Music City showcased what Rahsaan intends to be his repertory company for upcoming jazz productions, the future of jazz, especially in this area, is in the very good hands of the fourth generation.