So what do Hoagy Carmichael, Abduallah Ibrahim, Monk, Sting and Blondie have in common? Lynne Arriale. At any given performance, on any recent recording, the pianist's set list can cover all of the above, along with a good sampling of her own compositions. This may not seem all that unusual in this era of modern jazz artists taking on, and taking apart, anything from the full genre labeled music." What is more unusual is finding an artist of Arriale's caliber and reputation who is willing to bring such a diverse repertoire to the stage without the safety net of known collaborators. Or finding new collaborators willing to tackle unfamiliar original works with barely an hour of preparation.
Lynne Arriale, dubbed a superb talent with an imaginative gift for improvisation" (LA Times) and the finest pianist on the loose at the moment" (London Sunday Times), came to the Twin Cities last weekend for a whirlwind of performances and clinics. The Dakota Foundation for Jazz Education and Schubert Club cosponsored an all-day workshop for middle school and high school student pianists; the next day, the DFJE sponsored an afternoon clinic and performance at MacPhail for the high school students of the Dakota Combo. And on Friday and Saturday nights, the Artists Quarter hosted Arriale in trio format, drawing on local talents rather than her usual touring partners. Adam Linz covered bass duties both nights, with Jay Epstein (Friday) and Dave Schmalenberger (Saturday) sharing the drum set. Each evening, the trio spent about an hour rehearsing Lynne's music and arrangements. Yet by the time the sets were underway each night, it was hard to imagine these musicians had never worked together before. (Adam's uncle Tom Hubbard, however, played bass with Lynn about 20 years earlier, so perhaps there was a DNA connection.)
For two nights, we were mesmerized by both the depth and range of Arriale's voice" and interplay with her new colleagues, from the slow deliberation that opened Sting's Wrapped Around Your Finger" to the rich syncopation of If I Should Lose You," from a roaring intro to Blondie's Call Me" and a Monkish take on Cole Porter's What Is This Thing Called Love?" to a dazzling romp through A Night in Tunisia," from the elegance of Ibrahim's Mountain of the Night" and Hoagy Carmichael's The Nearness of You" to a deconstruction of Monk's Evidence," and of course her own lyrical masterpieces ("Dance of the Rain," Will O' the Wisp," Home"). Arriale was last in town in fall 2011, but as the supporting agent for vocalist Rondi Charleston; it had been at least five years since she had brought a trio to the Dakota, and more than a decade since she played the old Artists Quarter on Jackson Street. A lot of old friends turned up this weekend for the long-overdue return. And for sure, she added a lot of new names to her mailing list.
And many of those names were of young musicians who participated in Lynne's version of passing it on" through intense clinic experiences. On Saturday, on the stage of the Central High School auditorium in St Paul, with barely enough light to see the keys, Arriale talked about her late" transition from classical conservatory graduate to jazz musician, and offered the more advanced students critiques and a few lessons in the art of listening, learning melodies and tackling the blues. On Sunday, a too-short four hours flew by as Lynne and six members of the Dakota Combo (who happened to be directed by Adam Linz) considered the use of space, singing melodies, playing ideas and feeling time before preparing a few tunes to perform together for a small audience of friends and family. Like her own music, Lynne's teaching offers students space to grow and absorb, honest interactions, heartfelt commentary, no frills but plenty of substance, and a gentleness regardless of mood or tempo. One student noted, She was refreshingly straightforward with us, which was a nice change of pace from many educators whose 'constructive criticism' involves no real 'criticism.'"
I'd heard the Dakota Combo play the tunes on their set list Sunday afternoon, difficult works by Thad Jones, Steve LaSpina, Alec Wilder. But following the clinic, there was a bit more space, a bit more give and take. They had heard the message.
If there was an overall message of the weekend, it was about creating music—original compositions or personal interpretations—that offers no compromise when it comes to artistic integrity, regardless of one's collaborators, regardless of one's role as performer or mentor. Whether speaking with voice or keyboard, on stage or in the classroom, Lynne Arriale delivers her message with gentle assertion, with powerful gentility, with fierce and elegant conviction.