Ari Hoenig Trio at Smalls 3/12/18 (by Nicole Glover)

PERSONNEL: Gilad Hekselman (guitar), Orlando le Fleming (bass), Ari Hoenig (drums)

SETLIST: Stompin’ at the Savoy (Sampson), Lyric (Hoenig), Onyx (Hoenig), Arrows and Loops (Hoenig), Prelude to A Kiss (Ellington)

HIGHLIGHTS: Many exhilarating and near telepathic moments.

Ari Hoenig has been a mainstay of the New York jazz scene since the 1990s, with a steady Monday night residency at Smalls that offers a unique approach to both standards and original material. Tonight he was joined by Gilad Hekselman and Orlando Le Fleming, two associates Hoenig has been working with for over a decade. This edition of trio played with fire, huge dynamic contrasts, and kept themselves and the audience guessing.

Hoenig’s groups can freely suggest multiple different rhythmic modulations over the form.  This concept must stem in part from the widely influential Wynton Marsalis album Standard Time Vol.1. Hoenig takes these mathematical equations to new heights, delving into all sorts of possibilities for the form and harmony.  Well-known, well-constructed jazz songs act as the perfect catalyst for the experiments produced by this rhythmic laboratory: Tonight we heard two big-band era standards,  “Stompin’ at the Savoy” and “Prelude to a Kiss.”

Hekselman displayed fluidity, a clean tone, and an agile rhythmic sense. La Fleming’s articulate counterpoint and keen intuition shaped the structure of the music. While all three players are pushing boundaries, they also have a deep connection to the tradition:  Hoenig and La Fleming’s quarter note hump and shuffle beat swung hard, and Hekselman has a deep blues sensibility informed by George Benson.

Hoenig is a compelling composer as well. “Lyric,” composed for his daughter, featured a particularly inspired solo from La Fleming, and Hoenig’s solo over the outro generated huge excitement from the audience. “Onyx” was a new beautiful ballad with a singable melody, moving through several pretty harmonic centers. The 11/8 “Arrows and Loops” has been in his repertoire for years. It was slower than usual tonight, allowing Hoenig to play around the deceptive melody in new, fresh ways. Hekselman had a fascinating solo feature after the head, creating a loop with his pedals that allowed him to improvise upon his spontaneously created structures while still in a precise 11/8.

by Nicole Glover