September 11, 2012

Friendly Fire at The Carriage House

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Whatever drives people to reside in quaint but seemingly uneventful Ithaca eludes me. Subpar dining options and inexplicable weather aside (three minute thunderstorm anyone?), I often grapple with a sense of detachment from the rest of the world. Last Thursday, I escaped the familiar gloom by seeking refuge at the Carriage House Café, which frequently hosts intimate jazz shows.

As soon as I entered the second floor lounge, I immediately found the sanctuary I needed. I was here for Jazz Spaces, a new program that aspires to use live jazz as a social resource to forge community connections. Launched this Spring, Jazz Spaces is co-sponsored by Cornell’s Departments of English and Music, alongside the Cornell Jazz Ensembles and Hans Bethe House, was launched this spring. This program is the brainchild of faculty members of the Minority, Indigenous and Third World Studies Research Group and Paul Merrill, the Gussman Director of Cornell Jazz Ensembles. Besides featuring a major jazz musician every first Thursday of the month at The Carriage House, Jazz Spaces is launching a series of workshops for students.

Thursday night was all about community. Students, professors and Ithacans were hovering around the bartender for some wine and conversation. Through the ambient lighting, I saw people taking their seats. As we waited in anticipation, a man holding a golden Yanagisawa sax entered the dimly lit room and took his place on stage. Vincent Herring, the man of the hour, had arrived.

Herring opened with a few words, spoken with a very soft and velvety texture. His pleasant voice slowly transitioned into a pleasant melody on his alto sax. He was then accompanied by three other performers: pianist John White and bassist Peter Chwazik from the Ithaca College music faculty and drummer Tom Killian, also a local educator. These three men are truly passionate musicians who educate in classrooms by day and perform jazz gigs by night. They have also had their share of performing with illustrious musicians like Steve Brown and Dino Losito. Herring, White, Chwazik and Killian quickly created a steady harmony, which displaced the initial uneasy aura. Their adaptability was impressive, given that they were performing together for the first time and only had a few minutes to concoct the night’s set list.

The ensemble started with a few familiar tones and then flawlessly segued into Herring’s more recent works. Herring also performed “Friendly Fire,” a tune he first played in a saxophone battle against Eric Alexander at the Smoke Club in New York City. The song is riddled with brilliant riffs that flow into spaces. Herring continuously impressed the audience with his riff interludes, which drew enthusiastic demands for encores. Overall, his performance was breathtaking, and yet it did not overpower that of the accompanying musicians.

On this night of sweet and tender jazz, Herring proved why he is considered one of the best jazz musicians alive. Ultimately, however, community took center stage. In the warmth of The Carriage House, swept over by beautifully bent notes, Ithaca became a little less mysterious to me.       Upcoming events in the series include performances by the Steve Brown Quartet on Oct. 4; pianist Tomoko Ohno on Nov. 1, with Chwazik and Killian; and saxophonist Mark Turner with pianist John Stetch on Dec. 6th also at the Carriage House. Vincent Herring will be coming back in April 2013 for the annual jazz festival in Ithaca.

Original Author: Teresa Kim