I have rarely been more surprised or satisfied. I went in with high expectations only to realize that, even then, I had set the bar far too low. These cats can play! Again, I expected that because of the supreme quality of the musicians.
The surprise element was the unmitigated brilliance of the compositions. My expectations of hearing Chick Corea covers were foiled by the realization that all of the evening's performed pieces were original compositions by Mike Prigodich himself. My wife and I were amazed at the tightness and precision of these pieces. Our sentiments camped around the thought of "Why have we not seen these guys until now?"
The truth is, I had met Mike at the Victor Little and Friends concert in April of 2012 where he told me about his group which included Reinhardt and Damian and John. He invited my wife and I to his group's performance at Ivories Jazz Lounge and Restaurant on May 9, 2012 and we happily accepted. Again, the chance to see Reinhardt in another genre's setting was enough but Mike is such an engaging man that we wanted to hear him, too.
So, we arrived at Ivories just as the first number Mexican Mocha was taking off. But first, a word about the venue itself.
Jim Templeton opened the place just last year, 2011. It is located at 1435 NW Flanders in Portland, on the corner of Flanders and 15th. It is a beautiful venue for jazz. The tables are nicely arranged for listening pleasure and the menu is excellent. Happily, the serving staff is music sensitive which is a great feature that we appreciate entirely. In other words, nothing about Ivories detracts from the experience of the music.
So, seated and comfortable with tea and cheesecake on the way, we eagerly awaited what was to come.
When the opening piece concluded, Mike took the microphone and introduced the band: "On bass, Damian Erskine... on tenor sax, John Nastos...on drums, Reinhardt Melz." This was a Who's Who of Portland musicians. Meaning no offense to anyone else, these guys are simply the Golden Glove winners at their positions.
The first set continued with At 6's and 7's which highlighted furious runs and coolly weird time switches. Reinhardt thundered forth with a demanding drum solo as Damian accompanied with repeated glissandi on his Skjold "Erskine Model" 6-stringed bass.
I have heard Damian on many CDs and have watched numerous YouTube videos of his performances but nothing quite prepares a person for the sight of him live and in action. There is plenty of justification for his reputation as Portland's premiere bassist. He is subtle then energetic, melodic then harmonic, lyrical then percussive. Damian Erskine is a superior musician.
Play Structure was the third composition heard on this evening. This was a cool piece with great structure. This was the piece that make me take special notice of John Nastos on tenor sax. He played tight and aggressive solos and was accompanied by Reinhardt's rim play. I try to be wary of comparing musicians with others but I must admit that watching the interplay of these guys and the tone and musicianship of John Nastos, in particular, on this piece had me remembering my old Griffith Park Collection records from...well, a long time ago. John was reminding me of Joe Henderson. These guys, however, are their own. They are not imitators. They are world-class musicians.
This gem was followed by Haiku. In Japanese poetry, a haiku is a poem of 17 syllables with the first line containing five syllables, the second line containing seven and the third line containing the remaining five syllables. 5-7-5. Mike explained that the time of the introduction was in 17 but then drops off to five. Mike then said from the piano bench, "I don't know how to count off 17." Reinhardt responded with, "Just count to four." Reinhardt then counted it off and the group jumped aboard.
Below is the YouTube link to a performance of Haiku by the group at Jimmy Mak's from April of 2012. Enjoy.
Mike comments that when Reinhardt Melz joined the band, he was afraid that Reinhardt would be "bored" with the material. In response to Reinhardt's joining, Mike composed The Wizard of Odd and on Mike's CD A Stitch in Time, the song title parenthetically states "for Reinhardt Melz." The tempo shifts from presto to andante back to presto. John offers a fluid sax solo with great swing from the rhythm section. Reinhardt and Damian have played together in other settings for a long time and their comfort with each other shows it. But it is the interplay of Mike and Reinhardt that is so lively. Once again, I was compelled to remember an old record from Patrick Moraz and Bill Bruford. Reinhardt's play drew smiles of appreciation from Damian while John kept a cool face. The piece marched toward the end in a cool corps progression. This was fusion at its best.
That lyricism was supplanted by a scorching pace in Spanish Swordfight. The song was composed for Mike's son Adic. The quick tempo from Damian elicited a smile from John whose own solo literally took him to his tiptoes.
Reinhardt's precision and pacing left Damian and John laughing in approval.
Following Kate's Antic and its relentless rhythm section, the band performed Stevieland which Mike describes as composed in the style of Stevie Wonder as if Stevie Wonder were white. Admittedly, there seemed to be reminiscences of Sir Duke along the way.
Meanwhile, seated near us was 72 year old drummer Rick Selleck. It was a treat watching him admire Reinhardt's drumming and the whole band, in general. In describing what he was witnessing, Rick also used the word "World Class." He should know, being world-class himself. Throughout his 54 year career, he has played with everybody, everywhere, including Gene Harris, Trini Lopez' Big Band and Paul Bley. Rick's assesment was that these guys would be fetching huge prices for their performances anywhere else and that Portland does not realize how lucky Portland really is to have musicians of this superiority here.
In the final set, George Colligan sat in, first, for Reinhardt at the drums and then at the piano for Mike. It was great fun watching Reinhardt admire his drum work and later watching Mike cheering him at the piano.
By this time, the audience had thinned out and it was "fun for the band" time. The musical chairs with George Colligan was amazing. All the while, John and Damian held their own positions and were working incredibly together. The final set concluded with back-slaps and cheers from the band for each other.
This is a group to be witnessed at any possible opportunity and as soon as possible. I took too long to see them live. Don't make the same mistake.
Treat yourself and get his debut CD at CDBaby here: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mikeprigodich. The personnel on the Cd includes all the artists mentioned here.
When the evening of music was concluded, the appreciation between the musicians was delightful to watch. Mike had said that he was going to fire himself and hire George Colligan to take his place. He then told us that we really needed to hear George's own group on Friday, May 11th performing right there at Ivories. Reinhardt repeated much the same thing when he said that George's drummer was great and should be heard.
I have always enjoyed the admiration of musicians for other musicians. It is what sets apart those musicians who truly love music from those who love performing only and the attention it brings. When Mike says that we need to see George Colligan, we take his advice. When Reinhardt says that we need to see George's drummer, we listen. This is also the quality of these men. They are quick to highlight others and to support other events besides their own. Being men of character, they think of others. Being great artists themselves, they recognize the artistry of others and rejoice in it.
Wednesday night was a perfect example of seeing live music in Portland. Come with great expectations, then expect to be surprised.