by Harry C. Tuniese
It must be difficult for a performer to play the standard jazz repertoire without playing cliches. They’re more likely to search within themselves for a method to realize these pieces. I think that has to do with what they put in or what’s left out of them. Apart from other forms of music, jazz is always alive in the moment.
Over time, as The Great American Songbook became the golden rule, musicians scaled the mountain towards a respectable usage of so many classic tunes. The importance of writing/ learning/ performing music with lasting value has impacted their choices and identities on the journey. The composers and players serve each other and the chemistry becomes undeniable and transcendent. Acts may continue to scan the experimental horizon but many keep following the traditional road. An album release only indicates a mere snapshot of a moment in an artist’s or group’s lifespan. Just one frame in the big picture.
This is the chosen path of The Evenfall Quartet, a collection of superb talents, whose debut album makes the past come alive again with renditions of classic standards such as “Time After Time,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “After You’re Gone,” “How Insensitive,” “That Old Black Magic,” and “Stardust” – all taut, intelligent performances, capturing the spontaneity of a live performance in a single day. Each member of the quartet shines through the shared experience. The group is Brad Hallen (bass), Mark Earley (saxophone), Joe “Sonny” Barbato (piano) and Jerzy “Jurek” Glod (drums).
Brad Hallen has been playing professionally since 1975. Starting out after high school in top forty bands, Brad moved to Boston in 1978 and quickly became part of the musical fabric in the city. He joined Pastiche and they went on to win the WBCN Rock ’n’ Roll Rumble in 1980 and became one of the top draws in New England. Also during this time Brad played with many other Boston bands including The Nervous Eaters, Willie Alexander, The Outlets, and The Joneses. Since 2008 Brad has been a member of Duke Robillard’s band, touring the world and recording on most of his projects. Prior to working with Duke, Brad was with Roomful of Blues for five years. He has also toured and recorded with Susan Tedeschi, Mike Welch, Otis Clay, Billy Boy Arnold, James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin, Johnny Winter, Iggy Pop, James Montgomery, Aimee Mann, Ministry, Jane Wiedlin (The Go Go’s), Elliot Easton, Ric Ocasek, and Ben Orr (from The Cars), and many others.
Mark Earley picked up the saxophone in 4th grade and by the age of 19 was touring with The Guy Lombardo Orchestra. In 2001 Mark joined up with five time Grammy nominated Roomful of Blues. He has earned six WC Handy awards for best horn section in Blues and a Grammy nomination for the album That’s Right! Mark has also recorded and toured with Jay McShann, Albert Collins, Louis Bellson, Joe Williams, James Cotton, Billy Boy Arnold, Duke Robillard, Otis Clay, Kim Wilson, Taj Mahal, Curtis Salgado, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Peter Wolf, The Temptations, The Coasters, Bob Brookmeyer, David Liebman, Wayne Newton, Red Skelton and countless others.
Joe “Sonny” Barbato comes from a family with a long history of excellent musicians. Equally adept at piano, organ, and accordion, Joe has toured and recorded with Stanley Turrentine, Ravi Coltrane, Roger Humphries, Larry Coryell, and Jeff “Tain” Watts. Joe also plays with singer-songwriters and instrumental tunesmiths such as Duke Levine and Will Daley.
Jerzy “Jurek” Glod was born in Poland and started playing drums at the age of fifteen. In the next few years he formed a jazz trio with Jacek and Wojtek Niedziela. They toured Europe and won numerous awards including 1st prize at the prestigious European Jazz Competition in Leverkusen, Germany. After getting his Masters degree in Poland, Jerzy received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music here in Boston. Since graduating Summa Cum Laude from Berklee, Jerzy has become a first call jazz drummer in New England and has played many festivals in the U.S. and Europe.
We sat down to chat with these gents and get the lowdown on their sensibilities and grooves they bop to:
Noise: Our first question should be easy – since you’re all so independently active in the local music world, what prompted you to get together to actually form a group?
Brad: Hello Harry, and thank you for taking the time to speak with us. As for me, the reason for getting a group together came out of doing sessions and was the next logical step in continuing my development. I definitely was the instigator. I was really enjoying playing with these guys, so you bring a little homework into the picture and – voila – that’s one way to keep it going!
Mark: Brad is the instigator, but may I add, in quite a positive way. I have known him and his voracious musical appetite for years and it always works to my benefit to collaborate with him. We had been talking about this project for a while now, so I’m really glad to finally see it come together.
Jerzy: I’ve been always amazed how many great musicians are here in Boston and how the music scene is so creative and vibrant. You constantly have a chance to meet new musicians. Sometimes you play a gig or session with someone and don’t see them again for months or even years. I met Brad at a jam session a few years ago and we’ve been playing together very regularly ever since. Brad’s drive, enthusiasm, and determination is the main reason for this group to exist.
Joe: Brad asked if I wanted to play and record. Then he suggested getting some gigs. The CD would make it official.
Noise: Some of you took up jazz to follow a conscious path, though your backgrounds are in different musical arenas. Please tell us about those decisions.
Joe: Got into jazz because I heard it all the time growing up in a musical family. Did not make any decisions – it kind of just happened.
Mark: It appealed to me to form this working group because of our shared Blues sensibility and the approach we bring to the tunes we are taking on. So far, we have had a lot of great mentoring along the way from so many Blues greats and to bring that influence into this Jazz vernacular is something that I find to be refreshing, and hopefully our audiences will too.
Jerzy: I started playing guitar when I was ten. After four years of taking lessons and learning classical repertoire, I realized that there was an orchestra in my school and the band members were very often excused from classes. That was it for me. I HAD to get into that band! I found out that the guitar seat was already taken but the drummer just graduated, so I took that spot immediately. It was a great orchestra and we had a chance to travel to surrounding cities and even other countries. Four of us, members of that orchestra, formed a rock band, but we had to find a place to play. We found a cultural center where we were told we could play, but we were required to include tunes the music instructor would teach us and he introduced us to jazz. It took me few months to get into it, but I remember exactly the moment when I realized how this music SWINGS! From that day on, I was obsessed with jazz and started buying every jazz record I could get my hands on.
Brad: For myself, it’s just another tributary in the musical river to self awareness as an artist. Plus, I love the genre. To have the discipline to work on something like the jazz vocabulary, well – you have to love it!
Noise: Who chooses the material or is it general consensus to honor certain tunes?
Jerzy: Brad usually does that, but each of us will occasionally bring in or suggest a tune.
Brad: A lot of times the leader in a situation like ours is the guy who organizes things and books gigs, which in our case, is me. I’m not a composer per se. Since I have been doing the leg work, I have been picking most of the material – mostly because they are tunes I want to know. A lot of standards – American Songbook and jazz compositions. As a jazz bass player, you have to know your way around a lot of tunes and various combinations of harmonic rhythm. Joe has brought in a couple really nice tunes recently, and Mark and Jurek have certainly contributed also. Although some people would disagree, I consider this era of writing some of the best in the history of music. You will be hard pressed to find more beautiful melodies, lyrics, and harmony than The American Songbook.
Joe: I like most of the tunes we do – I’m just trying to catch a groove.
Mark: I have several tunes in our repertoire that I have brought forward and certainly will bring some more. It takes me awhile to find the groove on tunes I am learning. There are many different ways to play a tune – the fakebooks are often wrong, or just reference one path, which is not often the best for my ears. I believe in learning tunes by ear and thereby remaining open to what I may discover through that process. We are also learning these tunes as a group, and arguing every step of the way. That’s music, right?
Noise: Do you ever get the desire to bring in more contemporary material?
Brad: As I mentioned. Joe has brought in a few more modern tunes that are very beautiful. At this stage of the game, we are a very straight ahead group…but you never know what the future will bring.
Mark: Anytime I’m playing in a restaurant where they may be customers that are not necessarily there to see and hear me specifically, I always think to myself maybe it would be a good idea to play more contemporary songs and not just play songs that are older than dirt. I think that is natural, but you have to do what you love and that’s what we are doing. I have to have a little faith that folks will recognize that and appreciate it.
Jerzy: I spent years of playing original compositions with European musicians so I’m very happy to play standards and get really deep into exploring those well-known but oh-so beautiful tunes with this band. I never get tired of that.
Noise: Who are your influences and what are the styles that they embody to inspire you?
Joe: There are so many, but I will mention Wes Montgomery and others from the ’70s and beyond. Also, very influential was pianist/arranger David Budway.
Brad: I like the small groups from the early ’50s to early ’60s. All the those trios, quartets, quintets, etc. that recorded for labels like Blue Note, Riverside, Prestige, etc. There was something very special happening at that time, probably because a lot of those musicians were coming out of territory groups (meaning bigger bands). So they still were swinging like crazy and had somewhat of a dance mentality to their playing. And, if I had to chose one bass player who has had the biggest influence on me, it would be Paul Chambers.
Jerzy: The classic jazz of the late ’50s and early ’60s feels to me like the purest essence of swing, art, creativity, virtuosity, and joy.
Mark: Amen to that! My taste may go back a little further these days, but nothing rooted out of Kansas City will ever be wrong to these ears! I had an opportunity to play with Jay McShann years ago, and it forever changed my life.
Noise: Your album is wonderfully produced to capture a live on-the-bandstand sound. Would you use this premise again? What are some future plans?
Jerzy: Brad is working on setting up a new recording session and we will certainly try to keep the same feel of live performance on the next record.
Brad: That session was recorded live with some isolation and I think we will take the same approach again. In fact, we’ll be starting within the next few months. Also, we’re trying to develop a scene at our weekly residency on Tuesday nights 7-10 pm at The Fairmount Grille (81 Fairmount Ave., Logan Sq. in Hyde Park, MA). Please come down and support us!
Mark: Studio–wise, we are just looking for the best piano in town to showcase our man, Joe “Sonny” Barbato. I am relying on Brad’s expertise in the other areas he mentioned, obviously very important in capturing the sound. The next record is something I am very much looking forward to – we’re getting songs together now.
Joe: Just keep doing new tunes. That absolutely continues to be a big impact on all of us .
Noise: What’s your overall opinion of the current music biz? Diminishing live jazz clubs? Between the grasp for actual product versus the craze for downloadable medias? The surge of internet radio stations? Professional studios versus home-recording computer systems? Does it affect you at all?
Joe: Harry, what a complex question! Sorry, that’s all I got… but yes, all of that matters. Good luck to the guys with their answers! Thanks.
Brad: There really is no music business anymore unless you are a very established Artist. We are fortunate to be signed to a small label out of Florida called Blue Duchess Records. Everything is at a grass roots level for less established artists. Definitely hard to find places to play in all genres. Less people are going out to see live music. Places close or others don’t feature music, so clubs can’t pay the musicians well. That being said, I have traveled all over the world and New England is one of the better places to live for a working musician. Although people are buying less product, it’s exciting that almost all of our CD sales are off the table at gigs. It seems like more and more people are getting back into vinyl, which is good. The thought of hard copy media disappearing makes me very sad. I don’t like the thought of everything being up in a cloud!! There are a lot of home computer studios around now, but you really need to have a good sounding room, using good mics, mic pre-amps, and most importantly, a good engineer with great ears! I still like recording to tape when possible – it positively influences my performance. Though a lot of professional studios have closed over the years, I think there will always be a demand for them because of all of the things I just mentioned. Of course, this affects all artists. We just have to carry on and support each other. I always encourage others to go out and see live music, buy a meal, have a drink – put some money back into our community! It matters and helps keep it all going.
Jerzy: I’m really impressed how many places still feature live jazz music around here despite all of those changes. We are fortunate to live in a place like Boston where many people still value live music and will go out to hear it.
Mark: To my mind, things are improving of late. I’ve never been busier, and I’ve been busy all along. I’m thinking that some neighborhood clubs are returning to believing that booking live music is a cool thing and brings a classiness to their establishments. I naturally hope this isn’t a spasm in the death throes of the situation, but I am optimistic. I have noticed more and more venues coming around in a resurgent kind of way. Of course, most of my observations are from the climate in the North Shore of Boston where I live, with rooms like Chianti, Andiamo, Ipswich Ale Brewer’s Table, The Rhumb Line, or Glenn’s Food & Libations. There is a lot of music happening. And now every Tuesday, I’m in Hyde Park, so I can’t complain. I’m glad The Evenfall Quartet is on a record label, even though I guess that is old school thinking. I have been making more records than ever these past few years, although I understand the prospect of selling many after they’re made isn’t probably going to happen as much. But, I’m glad people are still making records. I was just working in the studio three times last week, but I’ll see you all at The Fairmount Grille every Tuesday at 7pm sharp – bring your complete appetite. Thank you, Harry.