Jazz on Jay No. 3: Matty Stecks and The 518, June 24

Indulging his inner “jazz nerd,” saxophonist Matty Stecks said he and his quartet The 518 would install new chords in the familiar “East of the Sun And West of the Moon.” After this jaunty moon-shot under Thursday’s bright sun, he noted his bassist Rich Syracuse had played this standard many times with Stecks’ teacher, the late, great Nick Brignola.

Blending imagination and tradition, experience and exploration, the quartet played the best yet Jazz on Jay lunch-hour in this free series on Schenectady’s shopping and hospitality side-street.

Rich Syracuse

Always a friends-rich environment, this one felt extra welcoming thanks to (yet another!) perfect weather experience, shade-tents added by merchants, and with a growing sense of ease and social energy in a waking world.

Matty Stecks, alto sax

As applause greeted almost every solo, it had the feel of a jazz club of aficionados.

“March Nor’Easter” launched in slow-drag funk mode before easing into a bossa. Stecks led with increasingly aggressive alto runs, pianist David Gleason seethed in the second solo spot, Syracuse supplied confident undertow and drummer Dave Berger steered the beat. In nine tunes over 90 minutes, they moved more efficiently than restlessly. They always went deep enough to avoid that Baskin & Robbins pink-spoon sampler feel. They gave big scoops, flavorful and cool.

Matty Stecks, tenor sax

“Begging the Beguine” rendered its source in the standard “Begin the Beguine” barely recognizable, Stecks slippery on soprano sax at first, brisk on flute later, as Gleason followed Syracuse’s repeating riff into explosions over Latin beats by Berger.

Stecks moved to tenor in the cheerful “Polaris Commune,” holding the mood, and the same horn, in Ron Carter’s driving “Eighty One.” Then their first full-on ballad “The Chrysalis” celebrated springtime in gentle terms. 

Gleason proved an especially supportive accompanist here, then a sweet-sound soloist. A close-listening co-pilot on the changes with Stecks all the way, he also forged strong links to the rhythm section.

David Gleason

“MB Blues” both acknowledged Stecks’s three-year stint in Manitoba and spun the globe to New Orleans. When Berger set up an energetic Second Line clatter, Stecks (playing gruff tenor here) turned and smiled “I like THAT!” and later nod-cued a solo by the resourceful drummer. A highlight, this roamed prairie-province expanses at times, but also got way down with street-parade energy. Everybody starred in this one, enjoying its sunny tambourine swing and grooving high.

Dave Berger
Drummer Dave Berger, left nearest the camera; pianist Dave Gleason, far left; saxophonist Matty Stecks; and bassist Rich Syracuse, right

Stecks called his “East of the Sun” mutation “Vegas Mode,” an agile mid-tempo swing number with Stecks’ alto leading in section-like swaps and echoes.

“I’d Know It if I Heard It” went playful/busy, Stecks’ soprano sax carrying everybody fairly fair up and out, then cruising back to earth.

Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil” featured Stecks leading both its expansive melody and stop and go cadence with tasty tenor sax licks in an episodic exploration.

After the set, Stecks pointed out the subtle Miles Davis vibe implicit in the set, with covers by bassist Ron Carter and saxophonist Wayne Shorter; both alums of Miles’ mid-1960s crew. 

In their easy unity and crisp all-in ensemble riffing that framed confident solos, Stecks and crew echoed the swagger of Miles’ band and other landmark modernist post-bop crews.


March Nor’Easter

Begging the Beguine

Polaris Commune

Eighty-One (Ron Carter)


MB Blues

Vegas Mode

I’d Know It If I Heard It

Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)

Live Jazz: Quinton Cain Quartet at Jazz on Jay June 17, 2021

The Quinton Cain Quartet charged through the door of live, free outdoor jazz at Jazz on Jay Thursday, June 17; a door Azzaam Hameed and friends kicked open on June 10.

While Hameed’s quartet honored venerable touchstones (not tombstones…) of soul, funk and modal jazz, Cain and crew went modern, groovin’ high with plenty of crunch and glide.

Nobody had a problem when wind blew the charts off their stands: The interactive band linked and locked, listened and glistened. It was sunny. It was sweet. It had altitude and attitude and an easy bravado they rode to seque and sweep from one tune to another.

Drummer-leader/composer Quinton Cain

They didn’t stop for nearly half an hour at the start, as fans toted lawn chairs and just-bought lunches into the busy, at times bristly, sound-scape. “Retrogression” eased from slow to faster, and stranger, as guitarist Luke Franco tossed the ball to trombonist Joe Giordano whose wordless vocals mystery’ed up the tune and they eased into Giordano’s “A.P.V.” Cain’s drums drove the bus, and everybody, while Tarik Shah’s always-on-the-move muscular bass built a head of steam from which solos would burst and billow.

Trombonist/keyboardist/singer Joe Giordano

Bassist Tarik Shah

Cain’s slower, sweeter “Pollen Colored Fantasy” blurred impressionistic, pretty and plush. But then they stripped down and beefed up in a mid-funk romp. Giorgano was the star here. While he took bold, brassy risks early, he settled into the pocket, giving the chords a work-out but staying on the map. As Giordano settled in, Franco began to play more outside, body-rocking to the beat, comping big and soloing way over there. Cain’s splashy cymbals flew like spray off a breaking wave as Shah again proved the band’s Most Valuable Player: Hearing a particularly tasty guitar lick, he immediately echoed it, repeated then built it. 

This second medley climaxed, that’s the right word, with the late, great trumpeter Roy Hargrove’s “Roy Allan,” a tribute and a trip; gracious and graceful.

Guitarist Luke Franco

Then Cain and crew reached back into his own songbook for “As the Sun Sets” and “Transience and Transcendence,” again linking songs and again without seams. Giordano grabbed the spotlight here, finding the “Woody Woodpecker” theme in a mountains-and-valleys solo; later in the tune, repetitions evolved into Coltrane-y oscillations. In “Sun,” the guys took turns going double-time as everybody else held the beat steady, a great attention-grabbing trick. 

Quinton Cain Quartet

When they upshifted from “Sun” into “Transience and Transendence,” Giordano again sparkled, though Franco and Shah got their own tasty pieces of the pie. Happy in the driver’s seat, Cain drove strong, taking the crowd home in a mood as sunny as a Trombone Shorty funk-as-fun number.

Jazz on Jay continues Thursday, June 24 with saxophonist Matty Stecks & The 518.

Live, Alive-O! Azzaam Hameed and Friends at Jazz on Jay

Gathering at Jazz on Jay Thursday wasn’t just that warm buzz of being with people; it was the particular joy of being with MY people; both the jazz fans I’d see at every cool show before the plague and Schenectady in all its diverse and goofy glory.

Jazz on Jay crowds are as rainbow-y as at Music Haven. Jazz on Jay got up and running again Thursday with pianist-sometime-singer Azzaam Hameed and Friends, first of 15 free shows outdoors where Jay Street T’s onto State. While Music Haven remains on hiatus, the Central Park venue may present pop-up shows over the summer. Jazz on Jay features local and regional artists, much easier to book than Music Haven’s world music offerings.

In short, nobody needed a visa for fun Thursday. 

It was show up, smile up whether masked up or not, raise our voices and clap hands up; spirits, too.

It was, as Hameed’s quartet asserted halfway through its 80-minute set, a “Lovely Day” in the words and melody of the great and recently departed Bill Withers – guitarist Hayes Mills strong at the vocal mic.

Fans lined the storefronts and toted chairs into shady spots, grabbed lunch and drinks, happily greeted familiar faces and danced some as the band played under a tent, facing northward (toward Perreca’s) up Jay Street.

Celebrating the series’s youth movement Indiana Nash highlighted in Thursday’s Gazette, Hameed generously showcased young (high-school) talents: pianist Jordan Gamble and singer-pianist Paris Bouldin. Gamble etched a muscular groove in “Sunny” then a short vamp, neither developing quite enough; Bouldin sang “River” with good feel and force – both earning warm welcomes from band and audience.

Hameed and band played loose and easy, almost too laid back at first, then muscled up and swung to impressive effect in “Wade in the Water” half an hour in. 

Hameed crooned “Fly Me To the Moon” with easy warmth but guitarist Hayes Fields sang more often, drawing fans to clap and sing along in “Lovely Day.” Other soft-soul-pop hits swung breezy and sweet: the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round” and Earth Wind & Fire’s “That’s the Way of the World” cruising in light instrumental arrangements, a radioactive Michael Jackson pop hit wrapping up. 

This followed not long after the band hit its top altitude, and attitude, in Miles Davis’s “So What.” Bassist Al Brisbane and drummer George Spence took confident advantage of scarce solo opportunities. Fields and Hameed generally led throughout the show, but everybody gave this timeless, jaunty classic a fine and frisky ride. The beat was strong, the vamps and solos solid and cohesive.

Jazz on Jay continues next Thursday with drummer Quinton Cain’s quartet.