The Rick Rosato Quintet existed on stage for two nights, four sets, from October 22 to October 23, at Upstairs Jazz Bar & Grill here in Montreal. Well, that often happens in jazz. Groups form for gigs and un-form after, moving on to other projects.
But during the first set on Friday the 22 (the only one I saw), you got the impression that this was more than just a gig, for the audience and the musicians.
Mr. Rosato, the 22-year-old Montreal bassist who graduated from the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in 2010, has been leading an artist series project at Upstairs since September. This quintet was the second installment in that series. The next one will feature drummer Ari Hoenig and guitarist Gilad Hekselman in the Rick Rosato Trio. (Expect a review.)
Two in the band—pianist Aaron Parks and drummer Craig Weinrib—are still living in New York, which made their appearance in Montreal special, as though they were for a short time stepping away from New York’s competitiveness to enjoy a casual reunion of friends. The same could be said of St. Louis, MO vibraphonist Peter Schlamb. It also made you think that Mr. Rosato is a great networker.
Mr. Rosato took lessons with Mr. Parks, as did Mr. Schlamb, who graduated from the New School in 2010. It’s a tight-knit web.
In “All The Things You Are,” Dutch alto saxophonist Ben Van Gelder, who also studied at the New School and filled out the quintet, offered a hauntingly jagged solo, alternating tastefully between melody quotations and phrases of his own devising. In fact, Mr. Parks did that, too. That balance would inform every song of the night.
Mr. Rosato often walked his bass—with big confident notes—suspending pedal points, building tension. His playing well-situated Mr. Weinrib’s cymbal work, which didn’t always swing, but was loose enough for that not to matter.
Mr. Parks’ “Wise Old Man,” inspired by the archetypes of Carl Jung, was a tranquil piece, cinematic in scope, symmetrical in form. (This makes sense, listen to his album “Invisible Cinema” to get an idea of his composing.) The veteran of the group, Mr. Parks garnered many whoops form his band mates on stage and from the audience. But Mr. Schlamb was perhaps the most exciting soloist of the night.
His playing made you think that the vibraphone should be longer, that its standard breadth of three octaves might be limiting his ideas. He played with two mallets for most of the night, supplanting conventional harmony with conflicting two-note chords that Monk might have played—as in “Light Blue,” a Monk piece—building tension, releasing it.
The musicians started almost every song reading sheet music, but the songs really began to develop when, it seemed, the musicians started responding more to each other instead of the staff paper. They were testing out their ideas and compositions in an ephemeral context, a context which may never exist again.
Each musician has his own projects, his own ambitions apart from this one-time group. But that didn’t make the show any less valuable. Five friends played good music for two nights in Montreal.