Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Solo Marathon

Merkin Hall is open again, and the sound in the auditorium is great. Yesterday, getting in evidently was a trick. If you came ten minutes early, you walked right in, but when I left there was a huge line for vacating seats.

Stylistically, the solo piano marathon was an interesting programming mix of classical, jazz, and even Broadway. Unfortunately I had to leave before Anat Fort played. She was the artist I was most interested in hearing, but I was happy to see her scheduled for the high-profile concluding hour.

One particular surprise was the first pianist, stage composer Stephen Flaherty. His set began with some of his compositions, which were actually quite memorable, followed by a nice pseudo-stride rendition of “Ain’t Misbehavin,’” concluding with some music from his Broadway show Ragtime, which incorporated traditional show tune composition with stride and rags. His set would adapt well for one of Birdland’s Broadway nights.

On the jazz side, Jonathan Batiste performed the standout set. Actually mixing in a little classical to please his teacher in attendance, Batiste still had the audience clapping and even scatting on cue. Both his technique and his ability to control an audience were impressive.

A cool aspect of the marathon was that the throngs who fought their way in were probably exposed to some music they would not ordinarily hear. They heard Michael Reisman perform his transcriptions of Philip Glass’s new soundtrack for Dracula. It was Philip Glassy, sounding basically like a dark and moody soundtrack. Some more challenging jazz came from Vijay Iyer with his funky yet adventurous “Blues for Sun Ra.” He also almost made Lennon’s “Imagine” sound interesting (sorry for the heresy, but the tune is just dull, maudlin, and moralistic).

Merkin had to be delighted with the overflowing crowd to launch their new season. I hope Fort and Batiste also expand their fan-bases as a result.