Billy Childs at The Jazz Standard 3/25/18 (by Kazemde George)

PERSONNEL: Billy Childs (piano), Dayna Stephens (soprano, alto and baritone saxophones), Hans Glawischnig (bass), Ari Hoenig (drums)

SET LIST: Rebirth (Childs, Acuña), Windmills of Your Mind (Legrand), Dance of Shiba (Childs), Peace (Silver), The Starry Night (Childs)

HIGHLIGHTS: Hoenig consistently drove the energy of the band forward with an undercurrent of rhythmic subdivision, constantly reacting to and supporting the ideas presented by the soloists.

Billy Childs is now best known as a major composer. However, he hasn’t lost touch with jazz, and his latest album Rebirth represents a return to the renowned pianist’s earlier days as a sideman playing with hard-bop legends Freddie Hubbard and JJ Johnson.

The quartet kicked off their set with the album’s title track, a high-energy romp in straight eighths. After playing the main theme, the band settled into a vamp for the piano solo with one measure of 5/4 and one of 7/4. The skill of all the band members was quickly made apparent as they deftly suggested each melodic or rhythmic idea before putting it in its place and moving to the next musical impulse. Stephens improvised over a new section, and eventually transitioned into a final vamp section with a repeated melody line, buttressed by hits from the rest of the band which progressed through a series of re-harms before an abrupt conclusion.

Childs’s compositions may resemble hard bop in their feel and intent, but in other ways, the pieces reflect of Childs’ other music endeavors into orchestral and chamber writing. Rather than rely on the common lead-sheet approach to Jazz writing, his pieces are more through-composed, with multiple written passages, transition sections, and improvisations taking place over different forms.

The winding logic of Michel Legrand’s “Windmills of Your Mind” began as a contemplative waltz. The open ended solo section was a one-chord vamp followed by a minor blues turn-around, which allowed the band to explore different options. Childs threw in a few “out” chords, Glawischnig responded with melodies and counter-rhythms, and there were several interactive moments between Hoenig and Childs.

“Dance of Shiba” was a piece designed around rhythm. In each passage, the trio asserted a set of angular hits connected by a frantic melody on the saxophone. In moments like these, Glawischnig and Hoenig were invaluable, they both have an unshakable sense of pulse and great dexterity when it comes to subdividing and manipulating the beat. Much of the rhythmic dynamics of the in-head were abandoned for the piano solo which happened over a commonplace ¾ with mostly static harmony. For the alto solo, the band brought back some of the hits from the exposition, and Stephens took on the challenge of integrating them into his solo. The song ended on a drum solo by Hoenig with the band making the hits sharply and in unison, connecting and re-imagining the rhythms in multiple ways.

Horace Silver’s “Peace” began modestly with Childs mapping out the songs harmony with arpeggios before bringing in the melody. The rest of the band entered with Stephens playing the head on the baritone and Hoenig delicately ornamenting and marking the time. In Glawischnig’s only solo of the night he projected clear melody lines with confidence, his sense of phrasing was loose and natural, but he still was always connected to the grid. Stephens took an unassuming solo which casually meandered through the form. The piano and drums offered a relatively minimal accompaniment, but Glawischnig stepped in to converse melodically with Stephens. For the start of his solo, Childs reached into the piano to mute strings and played with a few simple ideas before concluding on a high, with a series of virtuosic arpeggios.

The final tune, another composition by Childs, was a good amalgamation of the different musical ideas presented throughout the night. The tune featured a few contrasting sections, each based around modulating harmonic structures attached to syncopated hits. Each soloist explored varied moods, from contemplative to brash, and the band was always listening to cues from each other, allowing them to function as one unit to bring Child’s experienced vision into reality.

by Kazemde George