, July 2009
Horace Silver is a jazz pianist who's easy to appreciate. He’s as adept at pounding out repetitive funky piano lines as he is at playing exquisite bossa nova melodies, and the fact that so many of his most famous songs have become standards speaks for itself. Further proof of his genius comes with the release of a concert his quintet gave in 1976 at the Umbria Jazz Festival. Featuring saxophonist Bob Berg, trumpeter Tom Harrell, bassist Steve Beskrone (who, according to the DVD liner notes, was just out of music school), and drummer Eddie Gladden, the group may have seemed relatively unknown to the Italian audience, but it’s clear why Silver chose them.
The dynamic among the horn sections becomes clear quite early, with Bob Berg, the extrovert player, lost in his own imaginary blowing contest, contrasted against a more reserved Tom Harrell, who plays careful focused solos. Berg’s a little too much of a show off for my taste, but his energy can’t be denied. Silver’s solos are things of beauty, utilizing repetition, counterpoint, and an exceptional melodic ear. On Pursuit of the 27th Man, drummer Gladden delivers a rousing drum solo, his sense of timing and control of the beat extraordinary.
The concert’s highlight is probably Pursuit of the 27th Man, a song based on a Japanese musical scale. The song’s chorus has an interesting melody, but it truly flowers during Silver’s solo, where the song’s melodic palette is explored fully. Both Adjustment and Pursuit of the 27th Man feature wonderful solos from Harrell as well. Mention must also be made of Steve Beskrone’s fierce bass playing. You never really realize how talented jazz bassists are until you see how quickly and accurately their fingers move.
Besides capturing a wonderful concert, the DVD is also a great snapshot of jazz in the 1970s, with bellbottoms, handlebar mustaches, and big puffy print shirts. It’s funny to see how rapt with attention the Italian audience is, the reverence they have for the musicians written over all their faces.