Earshot Jazz’s “Instrumentalist of the Year” has a knack for assembling the right cast of characters for any occasion. A random Thursday night at North Bend, Wash.’s Piccola Cellars is proof.
Flugelhorn player and Jazz Noir composer Dmitri Matheny and his all-star group opened up two diverse sets featuring, visiting Arizona artist Holly Pyle. The all-star group was comprised of frequent collaborators: legendary upright bassist Phil Sparks, fellow Golden Ear winner (Hall of Fame), pianist Bill Anschell, and VIP drummer/Pony Boy Records founder Greg Williamson.
Originally an opera major at Northern Arizona University, Pyle’s has been making waves in Arizona for her pop-heavy, a-capella, electronic looping, stints with progressive soul-pop band House of Stairs, as well as her ability to inhabit nearly any style of music.That flexibility sure came in handy Thursday, as Pyle went from straight-ahead jazz standards (“Just In Time,” “Blue Skies,” “Smile”), to folk-pop covers (Joni Mitchell’s “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed,” Carpenters’ “Close To You,” Rickie Lee Jones’ “Dat Dere,” Sting’s “Shape Of My Heart”).She covered a lot of ground, without breaking much stride.
An intuitive vocalist, Pyle’s strongest moments came when she let her horn-like tone on tone glide through the lower registers, dissolving words into feeling. The caliber of musicianship that night nearly raised the roof, even as the instrumentalists served primarily to enhance the vocalist.
They brightened up the jazz tunes (15 in all) in rumbling, sometimes orchestral, solos (Anschell), tugged at the heartstrings in the most melodic, mood-setting fashion (Matheny), or grounded the flights of fancy with solid, straight-ahead jazz pluck (Sparks).They shined altogether on two surprising pop covers, updated with the liveliest jazz style: “Close To You” and “Smile.” They gave the familiar covers a dressy but not too fancy makeover.
Both pop tunes tend to draw the listener inward, dealing with a secret schoolgirl crush (“Close To You”) and profound pain (“Smile”). There’s not much room for anyone else in the stark, intimate portrayals that often border on maudlin to overwrought (cliché) in the performances of past artists.Pyle would have none of that. Using her hands as if playing a trombone, she opened up the rafters on both covers in a kind of universal revival, transitioning from one-on-one mooning and brooding to a celebration with the flick of her vast octave range. Her voice would rise and fall, falling into the velvet folds of the notes, caressing the fabric of life itself.
In small and large gestures, the band played with her, especially on the winsome “Smile”: Matheny curving the lip of his shiny copper-gold flugelhorn to suit Pyle’s own upturned vocal finishes, mirroring, amplifying the warmest of tones, sometimes finishing what she started… Anschell picking up a flicker of a Latin party in his free-fall of a solo, Williamson gamely tagging along…
The band saved an audience favorite for the second and last set on the 12th tune, Pyle’s looping cover of the Beatles’ “Across The Universe.” She’s performed this before, but it’s really something to see live every time, especially if you’re a pop-fan-turned-EDM-convert.
Watching Pyle record snippets of music with her voice, then sing over those layers, or loops, is like falling into the sweetest, most haunting dream. When it’s over, you’re left a little lost, and definitely wanting more.The Dmitri Matheny Group featuring Holly Pyle round out their NW tour a thet Port Townsend, Wash. Cellar Door Saturday and at the free Jazz at the Library in Anacortes, Wash. Sunday.Bill Anschell’s own trio goes off the page in support of his new album Rumbler at Tula’s famous jazz club in downtown Seattle Saturday ($20 cover).
— Dmitri Matheny (@DmitriMatheny) April 3, 2017
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