Why Not? is one of pianist Kevin Doyle’s projects, a trio formed to play original music in addition to works by Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington and other jazz masters. Its gig on Friday night at PAUSA Art House showcased Doyle, bassist Mark Harris and drummer Dave Phillips with trumpeter Tim Clarke guesting on many of the tunes played.
There were jazz classics by Carl Perkins (“Grooveyard”), Johnny Griffin (“A Monk’s Dream”), and Thelonious Monk (“Monk’s Dream”) to go along with the Coleman, Mingus and Ellington tunes at the heart of the group’s reason for existing. Doyle’s original material, tunes like “Sketch,” “I Think You Know (The Way I Feel)” and “For Shirley,” all held up fairly well considering the heavyweight company the set lists put them in bed with.
Doyle, a longtime fixture on the Western New York jazz scene, led his talented forces through their maiden voyage (this was a debut gig), calling out the tunes and churning his way through the changes. He is an effective pianist, not likely to engage in note-spinning at the expense of a song’s architecture and best heard feeding chords to his band mates.
Perhaps the pianist’s most impressive moments in the program came courtesy of a Coleman classic, “Lonely Woman,” the most-performed piece in that composer’s canon. Doyle built a dense cloud of clustered chords that rolled over the audience with considerable power, a sonic rumble that thundered its way through the air, dragging the rhythm section along in its wake.
Earlier in the concert, the group took on “The Blessing,” a tune from Coleman’s first album – a piece that sounded like a boppish Thelonious Monk tune filtered through a 1950s avant-garde mindset. While it was considered a ground-breaker when it first came out, the more amazing thing is how dated the work sounds now, more than 50 years after its inception.
Mingus’ “Duke Ellington’s Sound of Love” was the first song of the evening for which Clarke joined the core trio. There were some initial communication miscues between the trumpeter and the rest of the group, but by the end of the evening, on tunes like “Sketch” and “Monk’s Dream,” Clarke had stepped up his game toward where it needed to be.
From a technical standpoint, bassist Harris may have been the most impressive musician on the stage, anchoring the bottom end, supporting the soloists and displaying his own worth as a soloist in the spots he was allotted. Phillips, his battery mate, was pretty subtle, changing percussive colors to fit the sonic palette of each tune.
The room where the group was working is intimate to say the least; the baby grand piano takes up a nice chunk of the stage, leaving just enough space for the rest of the group to operate. Audience members were either seated on a cushioned bench alongside one wall, ensconced in chairs wrapped around small tables or hanging out in the pleasant bar area towards the front of the house.
In many ways attending a concert at PAUSA Art House can be a bit like hearing music played in your living room while you’re hanging out in the kitchen. Good music carries well throughout the space.