“I’m not used to being the old guy in the band,” said Dylan Canterbury, the (still dark-) bearded “old guy,” late in Center Square’s set at Jazz on Jay Thursday. “But it’s fun playing with these young guys, kicking my butt.”
The trumpeter and flugelhorn player was actually first among equals, though bassist Nicholas Dwarika (a graduate of Jazz on Jay’s December Student Showcase) was nominally the leader. And Canterbury kicked plenty of butt himself. But this wasn’t “Dylan and the kids;” the free, sun-splashed, well-attended show had better balance than that.
Saxophonist Bohdan Kinal (who just completed sophomore year at Guilderland High School) said afterward the quintet had practiced several times before Thursday’s show, but it was still a reading gig as the players relied on charts. Even while navigating tricky cadences and swift shifts in beats and chords, they held it all together. In their best moments, they swung and rocked as the tunes demanded.
There was seldom a studious, sight-reading vibe on the tented bandstand; the guys were intent and intense, but also clearly having fun, especially in the 100-minute set’s funk numbers.
If there was a lesson to be heard in the precision playing of these high school and college-age musicians, it was: When players know what to do, they know what to do together.
Another lesson: Young musicians can survey the entire history of jazz and echo those parts of the tradition that best suit them. What suited Center Square Thursday was the 1960s post-bop of the Jazz Messengers, the Adderley brothers and Miles Davis’s quintets.
Their happiest, fun-est tune, dated from a bit later, 1973: drummer-composer Billy Cobham’s “Red Baron: from his tremendous “Spectrum” album. Center Square built this classic fusion number from the bottom up, in dense slabs of funk, but with solos celebrating up top, first Canterbury, then Kinal honking strong on tenor, Josh Klamka roaming the keyboard and Dwarika going bump and thump at the bass in sync with drummer San Hatfield’s kick while his snare shots bridged high and low.
In fact, it was drummer Sam Hatfield who unfolded the tune’s roadmap before the others chimed in. He clattered up a snare pattern that forecast the tune as accurately as looking up at the sky predicted rain here almost every day.
This followed a mostly-originals string of well-made, well-played tunes of which “Onomatopoeia” was the trickiest, “Upon A Dream” the most bossa-est and “Beagleson Cage Aret” the most obscurely titled.
“Red Baron” seemed to put the band in full flight, confidence bristling in the three songs that closed the set.
The episodic “Clouded Sky Piercing Moon” mastered two moods: a meditative ballad intro as Canterbury conducted, while playing sweetly, with dips of his flugelhorn before an upshift exploration that resolved into a drone with bass clarinet. They gave the drummer some in this one, a solo with all the complexity of the harmony horn parts earlier.
In the gospel/soul “The Way You Say It,” Canterbury’s trumpet blended in microtonal perfection with Kinal’s alto. Pianist Klamka introduced his own “Ethos” as the closing number – another bop-y blitz with tricky cadences and Canterbury in top form with flugelhorn fireworks that drew a grinning, admiring glance from Kinal. After a teasing stop-and-go pause, they all climbed on the riff and rode it home.
Beagleson Cage Aret
Upon a Dream
Clouded Sky Piercing Moon
The Way You Say It
Jazz on Jay continues next Thursday, July 22, with bassist Dylan Perrillo’s Quintet.