By Jeff Dayton-Johnson | KUSP – Amidst a line-up featuring multiple performances by guitar jazz icons Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell, festival-goers might not have noticed that another giant of jazz guitar was on the premises: John Abercrombie. Abercrombie snuck into Monterey as the first performer at the B-3 Blowout on the Night Club stage (visible to our webcast viewers). The organ-trio format is at first blush a conservative one for an artist who has played in so many varied and adventurous settings; his long tenure with the cerebral ECM record label, moreover, seems far removed from the sweaty realm of the beloved chicken-shack organ sound.
No matter. Abercrombie was quite at home, and offered up his signature style: limpid, languid, clear lines, his solos stated in paragraphs rather than sentences. A sensitive reading of “Where Are You?”, inspired, the guitarist told us, by the Sonny Rollins version with guitarist Jim Hall, was particularly lovely; Abercrombie’s own “Ralph’s Piano Waltz” featured excellent solos by all trio members. Gary Versace on the organ was a fitting foil for Abercrombie. He’s capable of idiomatic soul-jazz (listen to him on the recent Kate McGarry album Girl Talk; for further evidence), but stretched to match Abercrombie’s lead when necessary.
In the Coffee House Gallery, Tigran Hamasyan‘s trio performed a set probably unlike any other heard at MJF this year. Hamasyan is an Armenian pianist, and 2006 winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition. His 2011 Verve release A Fable; is worthy of much greater recognition: solo piano with vocals, effects and overdubbing, very much informed by the jazz mainstream (there’s a version of “Someday My Prince Will Come”), but also by traditional and classical Armenian music.
Much of Hamasyan’s Coffee House performance drew upon elements of the solo record: dreamy, beautiful Eastern European melodies, both Hamasyan’s voice and piano subject to surreal electronic treatment. But with the help of electric bass and drums, Hamasyan was able to add another musical ingredient: his avowed love of heavy metal music.
No one else is mixing up elements quite the way Hamasyan is – in fact, no one else is even in the same musical ballpark. But his trio’s set at the Coffee House, music of profound old-world beauty delivered with ludicrously exaggerated dynamic contrast, was entirely convincing.