Ari Hoenig Trio at Smalls 12/12/17 (by Jeff McGregor)

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PERSONNEL: Ari Hoenig (drums), Nitai Hershkovits (piano), Matt Penman (bass)

SET LIST 1: Connor’s Daze (Hoenig), Anymore (Hoenig), Prelude to a Kiss (Ellington), Alana (Hoenig), All the Things You Are (Kern), Someday My Prince Will Come (Churchill)

SET LIST 2: The Painter, Connor’s Daze, I’ll Think About It, For Tracy, Arrows and Loops (all by Hoenig)

HIGHLIGHTS: The three standards that closed the first set stood out for the creativity of the arrangements and the group’s almost telepathic interaction.

Since 2005, Ari Hoenig has had a Monday night residency at Smalls Jazz Club. He has used this spot for a variety of ensembles ranging from duos up to nonets. While it is common for the personnel to rotate, he draws from a relatively small circle of musicians that know his often challenging music well. This Monday he was joined by pianist Nitai Hershkovits and bassist Matt Penman. Hershkovits plays with a beautiful touch and freely draws from a range of influences. This was beautifully complimented by Penman’s accompaniment, which was clear and supportive, but never predictable.

Regular gigs give musicians the opportunity to develop and refine a repertoire, but Hoenig’s groups seem to go a step further. His ensembles have developed a captivating approach to improvisation that reflects Hoenig’s very personal and genuinely innovative approach to jazz. This night’s performance was no exception, illustrating the kind of virtuosity and improvisational daring that have become the hallmarks of his music.

Hoenig’s compositions and arrangements often take a short motif from the melody and use it as a recurring figure in the solos. This is a crucial ingredient to his music and was illustrated throughout the night. These figures function as a kind of musical anchor point, providing moments of stability for musicians and audience alike. Hoenig explained saying,

Those types of figures are not just part of my writing, but they are also a big part of how I think about music. I’ll find parts of the melody that stand out to me and I’ll do things to accentuate them. When we improvise, the improvisation will often lead into those parts of the melody. It is a way that things can come together.

As a result, the intricacy of the music is always grounded in something clear and accessible. Hoenig’s music is at times complex, but never at the expense of melody, swing, or his audience.

— by Jeff McGregor