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The Story at Upstairs

Matthew Kassel
Staff Writer
matthew.kassel [at] mail.mcgill.ca

The Story, a jazz collective from Brooklyn, played three songs for its first set at Upstairs Jazz Club on Friday night, January 28. But that’s not really what you’d remember the show for. They weren’t songs so much as rolling expanses, more captivating for their loose, ebb and flow arrangements than their melodies. When each song ended, you felt like a tide had washed over you, especially after the second one, “Migration,” which lasted about thirty minutes.

In late November, I saw the John Escreet Project at Upstairs. In that performance, the group played a medley lasting about thirty minutes. I suggested that the band could have played the entire set without stopping. This band could have, too. And you sort of wished they had.

That’s no coincidence. Two members from the John Escreet Project’s performance at Upstairs play in The Story: pianist Mr. Escreet and bassist Zack Lober (a Montreal native). And although this group is seemingly leaderless—a collective, also with alto saxophonist Lars Dietrich, tenor saxophonist Samir Zarif and drummer Greg Ritchie—Mr. Escreet’s influence was pervasive.

The Story’s capacity for fresh interplay seems inexhaustible. That’s why you might have wished they played a set-long song: to see how they’d do it. “Migration,” written by Mr. Zarif, was an exercise in dynamic navigation. The band, refreshingly, did not seem to treat it as one song, weaving in unaccompanied solos; unexpected duo combinations; slow interludes; sturdy, regenerative themes.

Mr. Zarif—with a gurgled tenor sound—and Mr. Deitrich playfully wove together some fanfare-like lines, announcing the song’s first ephemeral theme. Mr. Escreet evoked some of Cecil Taylor’s demonic mystery for his solos, stabbing in scary chords and interjecting short, rapid glissandos, throwing his hands precisely about the keys. He was a quiet and meditative accompanist, playing deep vamps and seemingly controlling the rhythmic hits. Mr. Lober took an inspiring, unaccompanied solo on his electric bass guitar (he played acoustic upright as well), a respite from intensity. Mr. Ritchie accompanied Mr. Deitrich alone towards the song’s end.

What came out was a succession of songs within one song, a medley of miniatures, of dips and slides and stutters and pauses and flashes. All the parts didn’t connect in the way you’d expect: some transitions were jagged, others smoother. But that seemed to be the point. You started warming to their notions as they continued to surprise.

At the end of “Migration,” Mr. Lober joked: “Hope that wasn’t too long for you.” Not at all.

Matthew Kassel is a fourth-year at McGill University studying political science and Arabic. When he can, he writes--often about jazz. Find some of his work at http://coldjazz.blogspot.com/.