Sun of Music: Live From The Lockdown
Pianist John Chin leads a trio of bassist Sean Conly and drummer Jaimeo Brown in a live performance without an audience from Smalls in NYC during the height of the pandemic. Fortunately, the tape machines were rolling. The trio has played together for decades but hadn’t seen each other or played together in months. Chin had a tough bout with Covid, had his first child born two days after his fever broke, and he went a few weeks without even playing the piano. Thus, this was cathartic and energizing to be able to connect and play again. The room was familiar as was the set list even though they improvised in a way they hadn’t before. Chin comments, “The city was empty and everything about this show was a surreal experience, from leaving the house and commuting, to showing up in the West Village, which was a ghost town, to playing an empty club that would normally be packed with a line out the door. Everything was strange, but when we finally played music, it was like everything snapped back to a former life and we ended up making something beautiful out of the ashes.”
Chin is a composer as well, but the only tune composed by a trio member here is “Intermezzo” by Conly. Instead, the trio gravitated mostly to staples from their live performances. They always include something by Wayne Shorter, represented here by both “Speak No Evil” and “Fall.” They often close their sets the way they do here, with Bobby Hutcherson’s “Montara.” The set begins with friend Kelvin Sholar’s “Bermuda Triangle,” one that features not only Chin but major statements from the bassist. The tune builds after Conly’s solo and a laugh from a band member, and rather ironically Brown’s flourishes on the kit climaxing the tune sound almost like the applause of a live audience. The trio twists and turns in a hard drive through “Speak No Evil” with ample turns from both Brown and Conly. “Fall,” is of course a ballad so the trio exhibits restraint while capturing the undulating aspects of the piece that features mesmerizing piano from the leader and stirring bass playing from Conly. Brwon pushes the tempo in the final segment as the trio is completely locked in and flying.
“Intermezzo” is a riveting solo bass piece from Conly that leads into the Bricusse/Newley “Pure Imagination” where something completely unexpected occurs. The tune is from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory which became in 2005 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Johnny Depp in the lead. Somehow near the end of the tune, the trio deconstructs it, and Chin surprisingly ends up launching a piano solo, something that had never occurred before (As stated, they had shut out the world and were in one of their own). From here they launch into a blistering take on John Coltrane’s “Countdown,” putting Brown in the spotlight for an extensive intense assault on his kit. The trio the closes, settling into the choppy soul groove of Hutcherson’s tune.
This performance oozes the kind of energy one finds in live performance and as mentioned earlier, it almost seems like an audience is present in some moments as unbridled joy is palpable among the trio, complete with gasps of ‘yeah’ and ‘oh’ heard throughout.
- Jim Hynes
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