Something amazing happened last night at Steynberg Gallery, and if you weren’t there, you missed out. As anyone who appreciates good jazz and lives in SLO county will tell you, there’s not much of it to be had around here. Venues that want actual entertainment, and not just a fancy background visual are somewhat far and few between, and there are only a handful of jazz musicians to go with them.
But I can honestly say, after last night’s concert, with Aaron Wolf (sax) Matt Slocum (drums) Sebastion Meuller (guitar) and the great Darek Oles (bass), that there is hope for little SLO. For those of you that weren’t there, I’ll do my best to sum up the evening in a way that does it justice.
We walked in and gladly paid our humble admission price of ten dollars, to be greeted by an amiable door man. Getting in line, we weighed our drink options. There’s something magical about a coffee shop that serves beer by the way.
Like eager children, we watched the musicians huddle together and talk over some forms and arrangements off in the corner. We had arrived early to ensure getting a good a seat, and were thankful to have done so.
The room filled in slowly and the masters took their places in front of a beautiful makeshift setting, with red and black curtains draped behind them. They quickly tuned, and Aaron gave a brief, modest introduction.
As though they were one, they came out swinging with an Ornette Coleman tune. Darek and Matt fit together instantly, and it was difficult to tell at times where one of them ended and the other one began. It seemed Matt had tuned his tom and adorably small kick just so that it blended perfectly with Darek’s bass tone.
Aaron and Sebastion had roomed together at Berkley school of music, and it showed as they played the head in unison, with Sebastion’s very Scofield-esque tone complementing Aaron’s angular phrasing.
The night went on and it became clear that the first tune was just the tip of the iceberg. They warmed up, and then burned up. At the end of the first song, Aaron had hardly gotten through one sentence explaining to the audience what song they had just played, when Darek assuredly and sturdily came in playing the head to Solar. Without apologies, he placed the melody in to the air. Every note in tune, every line musically shaped, his rich tone emanating from his old German bass, his top of the line gut strings and powerfully wise hands.
For all too short of a time, the first set went on like this, with innovation, fluidity, wisdom and musical prowess coming from every corner. Their solos were the beginnings of songs in and of themselves. They never phoned a note in, there was always intention.
They ended the first set by bringing up Inga Swearingen to do a vocal version of Prayer, by Keith Jarrett. The song was an unstoppable force driven by Darek’s double stops, Matt’s tasteful rhythmic choices, Sebastion’s engaging voicings and Aaron and Inga’s interplay filled with rich tones and heavenly cries. Yup, I’ll admit it, I cried a little (and it wasn’t the only time that night).
During the set break, in line for the bathroom, I noticed Darek behind me with his picture-book son of maybe eight. I asked if they needed to go first, thinking of how hard it must be at that age to sit through a set of that intensity and have to go the bathroom. He politely said no with his charming accent, and made a point of stating, as he grabbed his son’s hand, that ladies were indeed first. I was shocked a bit as I went in, perhaps not being used to meeting musicians with manners.
The second set may have been shorter than the first, but it lacked nothing. Matt started off one of the tunes and, in a way reminiscent of Clarke Kent turning in to Superman, gave the audience a glimpse of what his thin stature and large glasses were concealing. Stick to snare, stick to bell, stick to ride, stick to tom, eyes burning, and rhythm searing through the room, he let us have it. It was glorious.
Halfway through the second set, Aaron introduced an original composition dedicated to his sister-in-law, who happened to be struggling with brain cancer at the age of 26. The work had a surprisingly uplifting texture, and the crew gave it life on what I can only assume was a minimal amount of rehearsal. There was the second tear that came out of me. (Sorry, coffee shop that serves beer, what can I say?)
Inga came up again to close the second set and at the end of it, we were all left wanting more. We stood to show our gratitude (and perhaps get an encore out of them, quickly to be discouraged by Aaron pointing out that Matt and Darek had a long way to drive) and just like that, it was over.
Aaron greeted and thanked all of his friends and acquaintances individually for coming, in his Boo Boo Records t-shirt and unique shoes, sax in hand. My boyfriend and I were lucky enough to persuade Aaron and Sebastion to join us at our apartment for some beer and music. Aaron was a bit tuckered and didn’t play, unfortunately, but Sebastion showed his true talent, without his effects pedals, on a $200 guitar. It was all too much, and the few of us that were there gave him our full attention.
Now if only this kind of thing happened more often around here….