James McGowan played "Hymn to Freedom" with composer Oscar Peterson watching in a picture ©Brett Delmage, 2019
James McGowan played "Hymn to Freedom" with composer Oscar Peterson watching in a picture. ©Brett Delmage, 2019

The James McGowan Trio
Options Jazz Lounge, Brookstreet Hotel
Saturday, August 17, 2019 – 8 p.m. to midnight

View photos by Brett Delmage of this performance

The James McGowan Trio immersed themselves and their audience in the joy of jazz Saturday evening, creating an upbeat vibe that suited the warm summer evening.

While the local musicians in this trio – McGowan on piano, Marc Decho on six-string electric bass, Valeriy Nehovora on drums – knew each other before, this was the first time they'd played together as a group. They came together smoothly and easily, playing modern jazz classics and two of McGowan's originals.

Each contributed substantially to the sound: McGowan creating reflective and inventive openings and moving piano passages, Decho adding melodic and flowing solos which spanned the guitar/bass divide, and Nehovora maintaining a strong underlying drive while adding fine cymbal and drum touches that made the pieces sparkle, and inserting well-timed “trading 4's” passages.

Opening with a swinging version of the standard “Beautiful Love”, the trio played three diverse sets: bossa nova, bebop, modal jazz, show tunes, and Pat Metheny all featured in the set list. Highlights included the dancing and immersive “Morning” by Clare Fischer; the entwined trio work on “On Green Dolphin Street”; their sincere and uplifting version of Oscar Peterson's “Hymn to Freedom”; the grooving and scintillating “Mercy Mercy Mercy”; and an unusual take on “God Bless the Child” which was much more accented and almost celebratory. Before their full-bodied and dynamic version of “Willow Weep for Me”, McGowan (ever the university professor) explained how that tune was written by Ann Ronell, who had to fight to be recognized as a female composer.

McGowan featured several Keith Jarrett numbers: I particularly liked the trio's fast, interlaced groove in their version of “Long As You Know You're Living Yours”. He also included two of his own pieces, both of which fitted in well with the jazz classics. “August Evening” was an inspirational and wide-ranging ballad which ended in a flurry of sparkling piano and fast drum strokes; “Winding Way” created an initially unresolved urgency that developed into pointillist piano and bass solos, slowed into serenity, and then built into a flourish of crashing cymbals and rippling piano.

The show continued until a little after midnight, because both the trio and the audience were enjoying themselves. It closed with the robust and happy vibe of Miles Davis' “Four”.

The audience changed over several times during the evening, but there were always a consistent core of jazz listeners applauding the music. One annoyance was the flashing TV screens at the side of the lounge. One screen in particular was tuned into mixed-martial arts and boxing bouts throughout the night, and I found that the sight of men punching and kicking each other throughout the evening, where I could not help seeing them in my peripheral vision, was distracting. No one in the audience appeared to be watching the bouts.

I hope this trio will perform together again – their simpatico was evident, and their upbeat and vivid show left me feeling happy and relaxed. You will be able to see them separately on the local scene: McGowan has several jazz church service dates scheduled for September, while Decho will be back at Options with pianist Gabriel Palatchi, and Nehovora is performing with Lucas Haneman's Express.

Set 1

  1. Beautiful Love (Wayne King, Victor Young and Egbert Van Alstyne)
  2. The Gentle Rain (Luiz Bonfá)
  3. Alice in Wonderland (Sammy Fain)
  4. Bright Size Life (Pat Metheny)
  5. Long As You Know You're Living Yours (Keith Jarrett)
  6. Wave (Antonio Carlos Jobim)
  7. Willow Weep for Me (Ann Ronell)

Set 2

  1. Have You Met Miss Jones? (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart)
  2. August Evening (James McGowan)
  3. Morning (Clare Fischer)
  4. In Walked Bud (Thelonious Monk)
  5. On Green Dolphin Street (Bronisław Kaper, Ned Washington)
  6. Hymn to Freedom (Oscar Peterson)
  7. Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (Joe Zawinul)
  8. Memories of Tomorrow (Keith Jarrett)
  9. Confirmation (Charlie Parker)

Set 3

  1. Lullaby of Birdland (George Shearing)
  2. Winding Way (James McGowan)
  3. God Bless the Child (Billie Holiday, Arthur Herzog, Jr.)
  4. Open Your Eyes You Can Fly (Chick Corea, Neville Potter)
  5. Four (Miles Davis)

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