Matty Stecks’ Old Friends Beckoned/New Sounds Reckoned with Plaxico & Ikawa at Caffe Lena on September 9th

Saxophonist Matt Steckler is a man of many bands, like most jazz players, and also has two names. On the bandstand, he’s Matty Stecks. And he adds a new band name to his deep resume on Saturday, Sept. 9, at Caffe Lena: Old Friends Beckoned/New Sounds Reckoned: Steckler, Plaxico & Ikawa. That’s Steckler with bassist Lonnie Plaxico and pianist Yayoi Ikawa.

“Lonnie was on my first Persiflage record in ’06, and some shows at Sweet Rhythm NYC and the Kennedy Center DC that followed,” Steckler said by email last week. “Yayoi and I were at NYU together… I was getting a composition degree but played with the big band that she was in. She and I played a bit (each other’s big band charts, some rock stuff of mine, etc.) off and on until I moved away from the city in ’14” – for a teaching gig in Winnipeg. A Schenectady High School grad, he has since returned, now living in Manchester, Vt.

Steckler said, “Lonnie has a way of picking up the essence of the song in one fell swoop, almost by instinct. He makes hard things look easy.” Plaxico has played almost every area venue with singer Cassandra Wilson and also worked with Art Blakey, Wynton Marsalis, Don Byron, Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine and others. Of Plaxico’s five albums as a leader, Steckler said, “The writing and playing on them is incredible.” He said, “Yayoi is an athlete on keys—maximum power with maximum efficiency. There is a reason she’s called on to play globally-inspired music in a variety of contexts, around the globe.” Ikawa has also written and recorded several albums as a leader. 

Yayoi Ikaka, piano; Matt Stecker, saxophones; Lonnie Plaxico, bass

Steckler studied music, Russian, history and literature at Wesleyan University, and earned his M.M. in jazz saxophone from New England Conservatory and a Ph.D. in composition from NYU. He’s composed and recorded with Dead Cat Bounce and Persiflage and curated Proctors Theatre’s 2014 Party Horns big band series before teaching at Brandon University in Winnipeg, Manitoba. There, he recorded the Musical Tramps project and more recently toured Canada with Pretzil Stex this past June. However, he said, “I haven’t actively led my projects as much as contributed on others’ of late.” Studio explorations with Musical Tramps, he said, “inspired some solo electroacoustic work during the pandemic, which I’m trying to figure out how to make live.”

While Steckler had played with Plaxico and Ikawa individually, the three had never performed together until last year. “I realized they were playing together as a duo at Soapbox Gallery in Brooklyn,” he recalled. “I asked humbly if we could try a show there as a trio, and they accepted.”

So far, so good. They play Ikawa’s “Butterfly,” for example, so, as Steckler said, “There are definite tunes… but what passes for intro or outro (or interlude) is up for interpretation.” Their method is organic. “If we try less often to ‘count it off,’ the result can be variable in terms of feel, tempo or style. I’d like to access more of the unknowns in this show coming up.” The new trio will also play a jazz vespers show on Sept. 17 at St. Peter’s in New York. “We all go a ways back,” Steckler said. “But we’re trying out how this configuration sounds.”

Meanwhile, the ambitious player and leader, who grew up in Schenectady, had never expected to play Caffe Lena and is excited about the Sept. 9 date. Until recently, he’d never thought that was possible. “In recent times they’ve opened up their programming to ‘beyond folk’. I figured it was time to ask.”

Old Friends Beckoned/New Sounds Reckoned: Steckler, Plaxico & Ikawa play Saturday, Sept. 9 at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) $23.43, members $21.30; $11.72 students and children. 518-583-0022


Guitarist Tal Farlow (or was it trumpeter/singer Chet Baker?) famously said, “It takes a darn good drummer to be better than no drummer.” Both Old Friends Beckoned/New Sounds Reckoned: Steckler, Plaxico, and Ikawa on Sept. 9 at Caffe Lena, and Evan Christopher on Sunday, Aug. 27, with David Gleason and bassist Mike Lawrence, are trios without drummers.

Drumless trios are rare; or so I thought before web-scratching and finding these, listed here in a hodge-podge fashion. They’re from jazz-lover/amateur posts, so unverified, but seem fun to track down:

  • “Parker’s Mood” – Roy Hargrove, trumpet; Christian McBride, bass; Stephen Scott, piano
  • Oscar Peterson Trio with Herb Ellis (multiple albums)
  • Nat King Cole Trio with Oscar Moore (the instrumentals)
  • Jimmy Giuffre Three with Jim Hall (couple albums)
  • Chet Baker with Doug Raney “The Touch of Your Lips”
  • Rob McConnell with Ed Bickert “Three For the Road”
  • Michel Petruciani, Wayne Shorter, Jim Hall “Power of Three”
  • Hal Gaylor with Billy Bean “The Trio”
  • Bill Evans with Jim Hall “Undercurrent”
  • “Dance too the Lady” (Ed Bickert & Don Thompson)
  • The Red Mitchell version of the Red Norvo Trio with Tal Farlow
  • Jim Hall Jimmy Giuffre Trio
  • Jim Hall Bill Evans “Intermodulation”
  • Diana Krall “All For You” (dedicated to Nat King Cole Trio)
  • Jimmy Raney “Wisteria”

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