Pure Imagination

Living down a rabbit hole here in Montana, we don’t get much opportunity to hear live music or, at least, exceptional live music. But we do get opportunity. Last month, pianist Adam Platt and bassist Kelly Roberti thrilled us with a performance that reminded us what we love about live jazz: invention and visible interplay, exceptional musicianship, the feeling that we’re hearing familiar music for the first time (full disclosure: as past and present locals, I consider each of them a friend). Both men operate from the margins of jazz which, of course, is where most of its musicians working these jazz-sad days. Composer-arranger Roberti has toured extensively with saxophonist David Murray among many others and has had his music and arrangements performed by an equally stellar list of names. The 27-year-old Platt first won recognition for his “prodigious” skills (as my mentor Leonard Feather called them) as the youngest winner of the solo piano competition at the annual Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival. He was ten (and invited back as a performer when he was 12). He’s studied with Bob Brookmeyer, Joanne Brackeen and Bob Moses and spent time both at the New England Conservatory and Berklee School of Music. Currently, his most visible gig is with new-thing, hip-hop influenced cellist and sometimes trombonist Dana Leong. Platt, now based in New York, was just back from a European tour with the Leong’s Milk and Jade when he made a post-holiday visit home and appeared with his former instructor and long-time friend Roberti at an intimate house concert here in Bozeman. The two have done this kind of thing before, and the program of standards and the occasional original proved to be exceptionally rewarding in both musicianship and improvisational invention.

Roberti’s one of those bassists who’s never content riffing but looks instead to accent and expand on what he hears. He had plenty to work with on this date. A strong, sharp player who cuts across tempos with the kind of varied pulse that begs a heart specialist, he mixed it up with smooth, sensual lines, snappy exclamations and melodic soloing. Platt has technique to spare and he uses it in service of invention, developing ideas in scattershot fashion and releasing them in a barrage of variations. Both these guys are slaves to rhythm and even the most lyrical of the pianist’s lines jumped and soared. Their sharply punctuated version of “Elanor Rigby”—something we’ve heard them do many times over the years—moved so smartly and quickly, it was hard to feel any of the sympathy McCartney intended for the tune’s namesake. Not everything was so strongly attacked. “Emily” saw them working melodic nuance, off-beat harmonies and dramatic pauses that swelled that beautiful tune with an emotion-drenched, lyrical sincerity.

Freddie Hubbard had just passed and Roberti shared a story or two from his travels with Hubbard before the duo warmed up to “Up Jumped Spring.” What got us thinking here was Platt’s honest confession that he hadn’t been listening to much jazz of late, except for Ahamd Jamal’s late ‘50s date “At the Pershing.” He and Roberti then dug into George Gershwin’s “But Not For Me” with Platt’s suave play recalling Jamal’s harmonic smarts, patient use of space and smart embellishment. Here was a young keyboardist who’d absorbed much of the “pure” jazz he’d learned at an early age (see Lionel Hampton Festival above) and then moved on to develop his own, widely-varied, contemporary direction. Yet, he was still able to pick up a thing or two from a classic stylist and jazz master. No doubt some astute listener somewhere will catch a bit of Jamal in one of Platt’s electric, funk or reggae-tinged solos at some point. The thought of that gives me hope for jazz in the broad sense (purists be damned!) and improvisational music at large. (To hear some of Platt’s work, check out his MySpace page here…especially his treatment of that Willy Wonka gem “Pure Imagination,” the title of which seems to define Platt’s approach to music as well as anything). –Cabbage Rabbit

2 thoughts on “Pure Imagination”

  1. Wish I could’ve caught this gig. Thanks for plugging Adam’s version of “Pure Imagination”, a tune that was and is always one of my favorites. Played it a bit at open-mic nights back in the germany days.

    The Platt/Roberti duo exemplifies jazz, getting into the realm where the musicians are playing to and with one another, challenging each other to stretch the seams just a bit further. These guys do more than just stretch though – they often punch through and back into the fabric in scary sorts of ways. Very impressive brains and fingers. Thanks for the article.

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