Concert Review: Eric Ciarmello Quartet @ Jazz on Jay, 07/27/2023

Of the 14 saxophone giants Eric Ciarmello cited as inspirations in an interview before his Jazz on Jay show Thursday, the Rotterdam native hewed closest to the most melodic players and the happiest – those who made their marks before, or beside, the fierce noise of Albert Ayler or Archie Shepp.

Photo by Michael Hochanadel

The music Clarmello wrote or chose for his quartet did more than simply cast upbeat moods, however. They said something positive, often playful and always clear; although Ciarmello’s tone varied from Dexter Gordon or John Klemmer breathiness to the driving force of Michael Brecker or Joshua Redman.

Driven indoors by rain and wind warnings, they hit it just past noon: Ciarmello in front, tenor sax; Kevin Carey, keyboards; Matt Niedbalski, drums; and Brad Monkell, bass. They started with the first tune Ciarmello wrote for the quartet: “Ruminate,” in a standard all-in, then solos and all-in-again-at-the-end format. Carey’s high-energy keyboard breakout expanded the melody into muscular bursts before Ciarmello brought it home; tasty solo from Monkell, too.

Photo by Michael Hochanadel

The slower “Synonym for a Lullabye” built from a lyrical launch into bolder, bigger expressions as Ciarmello underlined Carey’s keyboard solo with repeating riffs, a technique often used thereafter to highlight, frame, and comment.

Billy Child’s jaunty, mid-fast, and complex “Backward Bop” set adrenaline to riffs, going inside out and upside down with Carey’s keyboards and Ciarmello’s pulsating sax solo claiming the spotlight, though Niedbalski’s first drum solo harvested big applause, too.

Citing someone close to him who seeks to avoid “anxious jazz,” Ciarmello introduced “Bird Song,” an appropriately calm and gentle number they played without solos. Sweet.

Even “Waiting Out Spring” – written in February in the hope of warmer, longer days and as the band’s first full collaboration in composing – went invitingly upbeat. Here, again, repeating riffs underlined the solos, and Niedbalski emphatically built the foundation for a heads-up exploration by everybody.

Photo by Michael Hochanadel

Ciarmello expressed admiration for fellow musicians in the show’s three closing numbers.

He said “Borrowed Time” honored bassist Alexander Claffy, who played Proctors nearby main stage recently with pianist Joey Alexander in a Music Haven show. This meditative ballad gradually grew into something emotionally and sonically larger, boasting one of Ciarmello’s most questing and imaginative solos and another melodic drum solo. 

Ciarmello dedicated “Mightnight Voyage” to saxophonist Michael Brecker but noted Brecker’s pianist Joey Calderazzo wrote it; a mellow swing tune with Carey at his most outside-the-lines playing.

Photo by Michael Hochanadel

Then it was Joshua Redman’s turn for acknowledgment through Ciarmello’s original “Like Them.” He introduced this one alone, exploring the inner reaches of a melody before stating it clearly so the band joined in; once more developing solos from a repeating riff with Niedbalski’s drums stating the tune with vigorous clarity.

The newest to join the quartet – Ciarmello has played with Carey and Monkell for years – Niedbalski seemed fully at home with the leader’s original tunes, covers, and arrangements.

Photo by Michael Hochanadel

Jazz on Jay continues next Thursday, Aug. 3, with the Hot Club of Saratoga playing energetic “gypsy jazz.” Jazz on Jay shows are free at noon on Thursdays on the Jay Street Marketplace; rain site: Robb Alley at Proctors adjacent to Apostrophe.

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