Review:Jason Palmer/ Julian Siegel/ Michael Janisch/ Jeff Ballard

Review: Jason Palmer/ Julian Siegel/ Michael Janisch/ Jeff Ballard
(Pizza Express Dean Street, March 15th 2010, review and photo: Patrick Hadfield)

“Which is the real jazz instrument?” someone in the audience shouted out part way through the second set from Jason Palmer, Julian Siegel, Jeff Ballard and Michael Janisch at the Pizza Express on Monday. Bostonian trumpeter Palmer pondered for a few seconds, and then quietly replied, “The heart, man, the heart.”

Palmer’s playing can indeed be full of emotion. His trumpet growled through the opening to Preservation of the Lower 9th Ward, expressing anger at the desolation of post-Katrina New Orleans. But at other times he can also play in a calm, measured way, his warm trumpet tone a pleasure to hear as he sustains long notes and holds interest through long melodic lines. But musicians need more than big emotions in the demanding context of the piano-less quartet- it needs the head, the cerebral, not to say also great musicianship from everyone on stage.

Impressive bassist Michael Janisch really knows how to hold the tunes together. This is the third time I’ve seen him play in the last few months, and he seems to get better and better. He has programmed this monthly series of gigs at Pizza Express, and it is fascinating to see him in different settings and a variety of musicians. Jeff Ballard on drums was excellent, completely on top of all the complex rhythms.
As regards the compositions, Janisch’s tunes were more jagged and angular than Palmer’s. Some of Palmer’s tunes seemed based on exercises – It Only Takes One is a melody based on a single note engendering tension, with the rhythm and harmony creating motion; Black Beauty used only the black notes of the keyboard. But the tunes really let Palmer and Siegel play, sometimes in an alternating sequence as trumpet trio then saxophone trio, sometimes as full quartet , with Janisch and Ballard propelling them along. Between them, they made a great unit.

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