I had a totally unexpected dose of fine jazz Sunday afternoon, when I stepped out of my hotel to look for some late (as in, afternoon) breakfast, and heard jazz in the air. It turned out that the French wine bar and bistro, Le Bateau Ivre, right next door had a jazz brunch in their open air cafe setup. So, I had a totally relaxing, long and leisurely brunch sitting right by guitarist Andy Friedberg, bassist Don Moore and drummer Jim Payne. Their set included lovely ballads such as "You Stepped Out of a Dream" and "Lover Man," but they also burned through John Coltrane's "My One and Only Love" and a pair of tunes from the Jazz Messengers boos, Cedar Walton's Ugetsu and Wayne Shorter's One by One. Gotta love New York City - fine jazz wherever one turns.
That night, I made plans to see a band I was totally unfamiliar with: The Flail, playing at Fat Cat. I had checked their website just long enough to be intrigued by this band of young musicians that had formed in Brooklyn a decade ago. And I was not disappointed. While I got there a bit late for the start of their first set, I sat down in the middle of a very tasty blues which included some very catchy shifts in tempo. And, I was greatly impressed right off the bat with the pianist in the band, Brian Marsella. Even better was the second number, that started off with the pianist playing lots of block chords over a chugging back beat from drummer Matt Zebroski and bassist Reid Taylor, with the trumpet and tenor sax entering on a twisting and turning melody line that, voila, morphed into Thelonious Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle." The tenor sax player, Stephan Moutat, took the first solo, building to long notes with use of overtones. But what really caught my ear during his solo was how well the band listened to each other, with the pianist and drummer jumping right onto phrases played by the tenor sax and using them in their backing of his solo. After his solo, instead of just another solo, the band returned to the intriguing opening theme before the trumpeter, Dan Blankenship, soloed. Once again, lots of evidence to a band that listens to each other, as Blankenship took a riff the pianist had thrown in and built off of that in his solo. Blankenship was interesting - a very modern player in terms of harmonic approach, but with the sound of an older style, with hints of Clark Terry.
All in all, impressive performance from a band that has clearly spent a lot of time together and created some very fine original material. And their energy and youthfulness fit in well with the vibe of Fat Cat, loaded with college students and other twenty-somethings playing pool, ping-pong and air hockey, plus a lot of scrabble. It was great to see a woman who looked to be at least in her upper seventies playing scrabble with two young women late at night in a hopping, jazzy club. I bought The Flail's CD, Live at Small's, and will be playing music from that in the coming weeks on KPR's Jazz in the Night.