In their third part to an ongoing series, the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art welcomed a large, but Covid-friendly crowd for the Tribute to Jazz Piano Legends. The guest pianist Lovell Bradford, joined the Ziad Quartet for a night full of exciting music. The group consisted of Bradford on piano, Kobie Watkins on drum set, Zaid Rabie on saxophone, and Ron Brendle on upright bass.

The quartet incorporated a diverse style of jazz music and artists, from Thelonious Monk to lesser-known artists like Monroe Miller. They worked as a collective to put on the best show possible for their audience and definitely succeeded. It was easy to see not only the hard work they put into practicing, but the passion and respect they have for their music and for each other.

Cedar Walton’s “Hindsight” began the show. The tune started off smooth, with a focus on the piano. Rabie then came in on his alto saxophone, appearing to do so without any effort. The drums supported the two with a driving, forward momentum as they moved into the next section of the work. Each player took turns in the spotlight, having their own solo moment to showcase their talent. There was then a strong, bombastic return of energy that was felt throughout the crowd before the return to the main theme and ending.

After the applause died down, the group carried on into their second piece; A tribute to Larry Willis and his song “To Wisdom the Prize.” Bassist Brendle confidently began with a legato, relaxed bass line before the rest of the group joined in. Rabie took the spotlight, playing complex and engrossing rhythms with support from Watkins behind him. It then transitioned into a soulful and passionate piano feature that provided a strong pulse through the use of syncopated rhythms. The tempo slowed as the group then eased back into the original motif from the beginning bass line, sending a surge of energy into the audience

Bud Powell’s “Audrey” was next on the set list. This work can be described as having a sweet and loving sound, starting off with a passionate piano solo from Bradford with swung rhythms that matched well with the saxophone. Bradford grew the intensity of the piece through the use of strong, repeated rhythms. This was supported by Watkins, who always knew when and where he could assist. When saxophonist Rabie came into the mix almost effortless. He was soulful and intentional with his articulation and phrasing, drawing the audience in with every note.

“Monk’s Mood” by NC native Thelonious Monk was up next, and it was nothing short of phenomenal. The piano entered with a soft and gentle tone, giving off a calm and soulful feel to the audience. As I looked around the audience, I saw many people (including myself) tapping their toes to the steady rhythm. The instrumentation worked together harmoniously to create beautiful chords and a one-of-a-kind sound. The ending was brought on by soft, yet powerful cymbal rolls that landed delicately on the final note.

The quartet then switched gears for Mulgrew Miller’s “Tongue Twister,” a powerful and driving composition that highlighted the group’s ability to adapt to a new or difficult style of music. The audience responded positively to the large amount of syncopation, as well as interesting rhythms and fun harmonies from the piano. It was evident just how much the players were feeding off of each other’s energy as they maneuvered this challenging work.

Kenny Kirland’s “Dienda” introduced a new style into the concert. It began peacefully with a short piano introduction before the soprano saxophone, matching each other’s smooth and emotional tone. Brendle then took the spotlight for a brief solo, accompanied by the drums and piano. The tone was warm and raw, just as expected from such an inviting instrument. When the saxophone returned, the intensity grew, as did the dynamics and tempo. The quartet abruptly switched back to the original tempo for a softer, blossoming end.

“Passion Dance” by McCoy Tyner did not disappoint to end the show. It began with a drum solo – something the audience was not expecting. The rest of the group shortly joined in, matching the strong and steady rhythm that Watkins set for them. Rabie switched over to tenor saxophone for this piece, soaring above the others and the cheers from the crowd with a melodic yet powerful melody. Bradford then took center stage for one last solo, giving it a powerful momentum. Watkins matched the off-beat rhythms of the piano perfectly here showcasing a basic and well-known element of jazz. At this point, the crowd was on their feet, cheering and celebrating as the quartet closed out the show with one last drum feature.

The passion and love this group showed at this performance was unmatched. From piece to piece, no matter the composer or style, the Ziad Quartet filled the room with sound and provided the audience with a memory they will not soon forget.