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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
Begging the Beguine
Eighty-One (Ron Carter)
I’d Know It If I Heard It
Speak No Evil (Wayne Shorter)