“Another Jazz Concert” – Exclusive review by Ali Sleeq
Published on January 23rd, 2013 | by Caesar (ENGAGE)
Another jazz concert, another review! Once again, your friendly neighborhood bluesman here, writing a review for Kuwait Music for the superb concert that took place yesterday night at the Kuwait National Museum. The Chris Byars Jazz Quartet is comprised of Chris Byars as band leader and tenor sax, Zaid Nasser on alto sax, Ari Roland on bass, and Keith Balla on drums.
The event was sponsored by the US Embassy and the National Council of Arts, Culture and Letters of Kuwait. It was not the first time this band was here; I reviewed their show back in Hala February in 2011, and it’s great to have this great talent of individuals back to as the messengers of jazz music.
One thing to say about this show is how tight these cats are as a band; after the main themes of the songs are completed each member took a turn at soloing, all in the same order (Chris, Zaid, Ari, Keith), and all through the improvised soloing, they managed to stay in time and complete the cycles right on the dot. Very impressive to say the least and it just screams New York City.
The show started with me unable to find a good parking space, and I was not able to find a seat due to the hall being too full of people, which while not good for my back or ears (was too far from the stage), was a great spectacle nonetheless - seeing a packed audience coming to appreciate such music.
After a word from the emcee, Chris Byars being awarded a commemorative shield from the Nation Council of Arts, and an introduction of each band member, the show started, under the stage spotlight, and the lights dimmed.
They kicked off with a boppy number, and while they did not name the song, it did feel like a Charlie Parker cover, as that pre-war sound was extremely evident, and also that the band mentioned that Bird was one of their major influences (see the Kuwait Music interview with the band).
Chris took a solo, with cool and smooth runs on his tenor, Zaid turns out to be the “speedster” of the group, as his lines were pretty fast and they invoke the sounds of Bird and Cannonball Adderly, especially with that high pitched alto. Ari took his bow on all his solos, with impeccable precision and groove, which is something nice to see with bassists. The young Keith (as Chris mentioned in his banter with the audience) is a true drum pro. His control and accuracy are of a calibre I haven’t seen in a very long time. It literally seemed as if he had a volume knob, with his level of control over the loudness on the cymbals, snare and toms.
Their second song was an improv jazz version of a Kuwaiti folk song, which as of yet no one has named for me (and me not being Kuwaiti I wouldn’t know), but they played the theme off of music score sheets, and once that was over they each again took turns improvising over a one chord vamp, before returning to the theme. A great take on Kuwaiti folk music!
The third song came as a bit of a surprise to everyone; Chris came up to the mic and told everyone that in one of their concerts in New York, the way they ended the show was by performing a Fairouz song. Yep, THAT Fairouz! Of course when one is Lebanese, they automatically feel right at home when hearing the Jewel of Lebanon; especially one of her most famous tunes, Kan Ena Tahoun.
After that, Chris called Zaid up on stage to sing Summertime, that classic standard by George Gershwin. He taught the audience how to sing it before playing it for one round with the band and the audience. The fifth song was also in the style of a Kuwaiti folk song, this time about pearls. I imagined a mystic snake charmer and his hypnotized reptile, as the musical scale used was very Arabian, the Nahawand scale. It was just so airy and dreamlike. They then played the swing standard Lester Leaps In, written by Lester Young in 1939, and Keith took a lengthy solo in which he dazzled the audience with his showmanship.
Next was a slow and short rendition of the Louis Armstrong masterpiece, “What a Wonderful World”, which only lasted two rounds. Again inspired by Fairouz, they performed their jazz version of Nassam Alayna El Hawa, which got everyone (myself included) very excited, as it was something a lot more familiar. Chris mentioned that Zaid’s father was a bassist who performed with many great jazz players like John Coltrane, and also one the pillars of the blues, Mr. B.B. King himself. So they had a 12-bar blues jam, featuring a riff I recognized from John Coltrane’s “Blues for Elvin” from the ‘Coltrane Plays the Blues’ album. Zaid took the song to a great new level.
They ended the show with the Dizzy Gillespie classic bebop standard, “A Night in Tunisia”, which was a wonderful way to end this very classy jazz event. I was really happy I was able to witness a great night of improvisation and experimentation with Kuwaiti and Lebanese music, as well as a blues number. My only gripe would be that the show was very short (10 songs only), and that the space did not accommodate enough people, as many ended up standing. I also would have liked to hear more modern jazz, something from the hard bop or modal era.
It was a great night for Kuwait and for Jazz, and I hope more of these shows take place, as it gets people exposed to different genres that they are not used to hearing. I got to say hi to the band and also I was happy they remembered me (“Hey you were the guy with the Miles Davis t-shirt” thanks Ari!)
I’ll be back soon, until then, good blues to ya!