March is Women's History Month and, in celebration, pianist Lenore Raphael dedicated her March installment of the JazzLive series at the Halle Cultural Arts Center to jazz standards written about women. Performing in a trio setting, Raphael was joined by guitarist Howard Paul and bassist Jason Foureman. Throughout the performance, the absence of drums never became apparent (a testament to the trio's musicianship as individuals and as a group); instead, the void created a space of intimacy that drew the crowd in, swaying to the unified force of the burning jazz on stage. Swinging through tunes such as "Stella by Starlight" and "Have You Met Miss Jones," Raphael and her trio delivered exceptional performances.
The trio kicked off the first set with the George Gershwin composition "Lady, Be Good." From the start, the trio swang hard with Raphael, supported by the alliance of Foureman's solid time and Paul's quarter-note "comping" a la Count Basie guitarist Freddie Green. Raphael's dexterity never overshadowed the melodic nature of her improvisation, and the same applied to Paul and Foureman. Each musician displayed sensitivity to motivic development, but also knew when to push the envelope in a technical sense. Additionally, the musicians supported one another aptly, leaving enough space for the soloists at any given time to clearly implement their ideas.
The trio then played "Have You Met Miss Jones," featuring a beautiful rubato opening by Raphael. Remarkable solos were given all around, especially with Foureman starting in the upper register of the bass with little effort and great intonation. Between songs, Raphael engaged with the audience to comment on what happened previously or what would happen next. In two of these intervals, Raphael pointed towards overarching themes connected to the language of jazz
After "Lady, Be Good," Raphael asked if Paul and Foureman had played together before. They replied, "Maybe once," to which she told the audience, "That's jazz!" Developing the skillset of a jazz musician allows one to enter situations such as this and to create engaging experiences with little to no rehearsal, to which Raphael hinted throughout the program.
Following "Have You Met Miss Jones," Raphael pointed out the beauty of communication in jazz music. Each musician picked up on figures in the solo and used those to enhance his or her contributions; this, in turn, influenced the soloist and created dialogue.
Next up, Raphael featured Paul on the Klenner-Lewis composition "Just Friends." Paul handled the melody wonderfully. It's important to note how each musician also had his or her own voice when playing the melodies. The melody was always present, yet took on personalized character under the fingertips of Raphael, Paul, or Foureman.
After Raphael again addressed the crowd, the trio performed a latin-styled take on Jerome Kern's "Yesterdays." This was the only moment throughout the performance where a drummer may have helped keep the time more steady, as the tempo would settle and then escape from the trio's grasp occasionally. However, the solos were still stellar. Additionally, the trio "traded" solos amongst all three musicians in this tune, whereas the trading happened mostly between Raphael and Paul for the rest of the concert.
Foureman was featured on the next tune, "I'm Old Fashioned" by Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer, opening the selection by himself and cueing Raphael and Paul to enter. The trio closed the first set with Victor Young's "Stella By Starlight," opened by Raphael. During the melody, Paul played just enough in the spaces left by Raphael for the melody to have a continuous effect.
To start the second set, Raphael deviated a bit from the theme of the night by playing Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" (starting the tune off by saying she needed to "keep her bebop chops up") and Duke Jordan's "Jordu." Both of these pieces were executed at a high level, and the bar got pushed higher still, later in the set. "Emily" by Johnny Mandel and Johnny Mercer brought the theme of women back through Paul's lovely interpretation of the melody and solos by Paul and Raphael.
Before starting "Back Home in Indiana," Raphael stated that she constantly challenges herself to play this song faster than she recorded it. The trio then burned through the tune at around 300 BPM, easily the fastest they had played all night, and delivered incredible solos. Raphael ended the night on a softer note with "Georgia," dedicated to Paul, who resides in Savannah. Both Raphael and Paul took laid-back solos to reflect the change in mood from "Indiana" to "Georgia" and brought the night to a close marvelously.
Raphael and her trio truly showed the importance of high-level, all-around musicianship through the absence of a drummer, characteristic melodies, and well-articulated solos. The crowd gave the ensemble a standing ovation after Raphael thanked the audience for coming.
Raphael will be in concert at the Halle Cultural Arts Center on Saturday, April 15th. For more information, click here.