Carmen Staaf at Cornelia Street Café 12/13/17 (by Chris Eaves-Kohlbrenner)

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PERSONNEL: Carmen Staaf (piano), Nicole Zuraitis (voice), Dave Ballou (trumpet, flugelhorn), Kris Allen (alto sax), Jon Michel (bass), George Schuller (drums)

SET LIST: Daydream (Strayhorn/Ellington/Latouche), New April (Staaf), In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning (Hilliard/Mann), Misterioso (Monk), The Song Is You (Hammerstein/Kern)

HIGHLIGHTS: The ensemble exhibited Staaf’s compositional creativity through its performance of new originals and interpretations of old standards, culminating in an energetic take on Monk’s “Misterioso.”

With this performance, Carmen Staaf and her band released their “Day Dream” album. The release walked us through several standards and original compositions, all of which originated during the band’s time teaching together at Litchfield Jazz Camp.

The gig began with the classic Ellingtonia of “Day Dream,” where Zuraitis was in the realm of Ella Fitzgerald. Ballou’s expansive trumpet solo featured compact tones at both ends of the register, emphasized through subtle piano comping. Staaf’s “New April” offered Latin rhythms that were further emphasized by guest percussionist Rogerio Boccato on shaker and pandeiro. The piano vamp carried traces of a less aggressive Michel Camino.

Staaf’s arrangement of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” was an upbeat exercise in melodies and countermelodies, passing a melody in minor key from horn and sax to piano to bass and so on. The result is less melancholy than the original, although the affect is still pensive, especially from Zuraitis.

In “Misterioso,” Staaf’s clusters of dissonant chords echoed Monk, as did the use of space in the trumpet and alto solos. The blues-infused bass licks did justice to this tune. Staaf was right in telling us, “It’s not a concert without a blues.”

The band closed the set strong with an upbeat and energetic rendition of “The Song Is You,” complete with humorous flourishes and a driving tempo.

— by Chris Eaves-Kohlbrenner