Kevin Hays (piano; b. 1968)
It was a brisk evening as I entered New York's Smoke Jazz Club. I wanted to check out someone new at my favourite jazz club in the city. I arrived and enjoyed a nice glass wine while waiting for the show to begin.
Sitting next to me were a quartet of individuals that were obviously only here because a friend told them it was a great play to hear some music. They really had no intention of listening to the music as the talked through the first two songs. After some deep thought I asked the hostess to tell them quiet down. They did but just barely.
Okay back to our originally scheduled program. Tonight's performance was from pianist, Kevin Hays. I had only heard Kevin Hays' name around the jazz circles but hadn't really investigated his music until this evening. Kevin Hays has recorded over a dozen albums in addition to recording and performing with an impressive list of artists including Bob Belden (composer, sax), John Scofield (guitar), Roy Haynes (drums) and Benny Golson (sax) among others. His quartet for tonight's performance featured three musicians with whom I was very familiar, either from their own work or other recording dates (Mark Turner (sax), Rodney Green (drums) and Doug Weiss (bass)).
Well, let's just say--Kevin Hays can really swing! His depth, range and improvisation were impressive and his arrangements for songs by Charlie Parker and Benny Golson during the set were fantastic. While displaying some clever improv-chops his subtle playfulness hinted to a bit of a Keith Jarrett influence but more recent comparisons (not influence) might be Brad Meldhau and Benny Green.
Hays' exchanges with Rodney Green and Mark Turner were outstanding. As the night went on, especially during the final two pieces, the three really took the reins off and were smokin' rhythmically. Mark Turner--a big adventurous player in the vein of John Coltrane and Wayne Marsh--was a bit subdued on this night but it fit Hays' style and didn't dominate the proceedings. Hays and Turner showed phenomenal artistry during Hays' reworking of the Benny Golson standard "Stablemates" (Hays remarked he was changing it to "Unstablemates"). Anyone who knows this midtempo classic, take a listen and then imagine it just a little tiny bit more upbeat. A nice crafty melody change by Hays.
Kevin Hays' most recent record is a collection of pop/jazz standards entitled You've Got A Friend (Jazz Eyes), which actually is a really good introduction to his work if you haven't heard him before. Don't be hesitant, these covers are expansive, different and well worth the listen (especially The Beatles "Fool On The Hill" and Thelonious Monk "Think Of One").
Overall, not a stellar "I'm blown away" evening but definitely a welcomed and enjoyable night of music. Also a nice discovery of a musician I should have listened to a long time ago despite the knuckleheads next to me. (Next time: Five Things Not To Do At A Jazz Club)