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April 27, 2005

A Journey to Oaktown

George is dangerous. Like Lee, he lets me talk. When I talk I can get an enormous amount of meditation out of my system, some of which is worth listening too. I take the cues of the listeners to make associations and we jump from subject to subject. It's a kind of love that I don't often get, and I much appreciate. Ask anyone who knows me. I can talk a blue streak. I notice this most as I am still on the edge of a conversation getting out of the car and walking up to bed and suddenly it's quiet. Like now. So now I write.

George and I had a man date. We went to Yoshi's in Oakland and had drinks, dinner and partook of the Jazz. We talked about the Pope, Lake Merritt, Wal-Mart, the Causeway, the Quik Way, the rimmers and the slot, Freyer, Bomani Jones, Lisa Jones, Greg Tate, Jerry Brown, Antonio Villaraigosa, San Diego, Brooklyn, Walnut Creek, New Orleans, New York, South Africa, Brazil, steaks, tea, katsu, tequila, Buddhist vegetarians, the inevitability of India, the New Standard, the LA Times, UPI, SWSX, sex and car wrecks on the Bay Bridge, SROs and rooftops, cars that got keyed and trainproof buildings, Jack & Miles, Galveston, prison health care, farms in Ohio, chemical plants in Kansas City, podcasting, XRepublic, Six Apart, T-Mobile, Anil Dash, Earl Dunovant, Scott Patterson, Cecily, Gerry Mulligan, Bobby McFerrin, India Irie, Erika Badu, Onyx, Wiggers, Clorox, online auctions, old neighborhoods, Al Jarreau, Emir Deodato and the beauty of eating small portions of food.

Fortunately, our gabbing was interrupted by a extraordinary sextet led by Michael O'Neill and Kenny Washington.

OK. First off they started with a number that was pedestrian and sounded a lot like Gerry Mulligan and Paul Desmond. I kept waiting for somebody to bite a riff from The Joy Spring, but it didn't happen. They're playing fairly tight. So far it sounds like it's going to be a fairly competent, if soulless affair. Then they start cutting loose a bit and Washington comes to the stage. O'Neill introduces him as the finest singer he had ever heard. Yeah right, I think to myself.

Washington is phenomenal. Right away he makes Al Jarreau sound like he's stretching and reaching and basically trying too hard. Washington is effortless and precise, but very smooth. He's a small man, and you can hear how that makes his voice unique. He's got the purity and straight-ahead sensibility of Bobby Short, he's got the playfulness of McFerrin, he's got the soulful sensibilities of Donny Hathaway and he's got the Jazz like no one else.

They say that Lush Life is one of the most difficult standards to sing because of the way it blends chord changes into off keys and back in every other phrase. Washington inserts that kind of change into his balladeering to astonishing effect. He makes every common song an adventure.

Michael O'Neill sounds as if he could improvise all night without ever repeating himself once. He hovers between mastery and greatness. His saxophone work is extraordinary. He plays with almost orchestral diction yet with classic jazz chops. It makes him a rare treat - it's almost as if he's not only playing but he's teaching saxophone on stage.

The rhythm section was superb. I was telling George how I prefer to sit on the piano side of the stage and not on the drum side, because it's rare that the bass and drum vibe so tightly and remain understated. But when the bassist broke out with swift, funky phrasing it had everybody swiveling in their seats.

I could spend the rest of my life doing just this, wine, jazz and sushi. With a friend like George, one night is enough to generate a great number of pleasant memories.

Posted by mbowen at April 27, 2005 12:32 AM

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