01/14/12

Ed Metz Trio in Florida, 1/9/12

Ken Franckling reports on performance by the drummer’s group at a Charlotte County Jazz Society concert

Orlando-based drummer Eddie Metz Jr. crafted a Florida mini-tour with New York-based pianist Rossano Sportiello and bassist Nicki Parrott, who he called two of his favorite musicians on their respective instruments. Their January 9 performance at the Charlotte Cultural Center in Port Charlotte opened a weeklong Florida leg that winds up this weekend at Matt Domber’s fourth annual Arbors Records Invitational Jazz Party in Clearwater Beach.

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Eddie Metz Jr. and Nicki Parrott in Florida, 1/12
By Ken Franckling
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Rossano Sportiello in Florida, 1/12
By Ken Franckling

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“It’s only my trio from the standpoint that I booked the gig,” Metz said. He wasn’t kidding in that regard. This was a true trio of equals, with the players passing the relay baton all night to lead the trio through a diverse array of excellent music.

Metz met Sportiello and Parrott (born and raised in Italy and Australia, respectively) on the mainstream swing jazz party circuit and quickly realized they had a special musical chemistry together. It was on full display all night as the band explored material that had its roots in mainstream jazz, the American songbook, vintage pop, Latin jazz and classical music.

Here were a few highlights:

• Sportiello’s deep take on “Honeysuckle Rose” revealed early the scope of his musical imagination, though he held back on the stride technique heard in other settings that show him to be an engaging young master of that style.

• Parrott’s three-tune tribute to Peggy Lee, which brought a nice vocal component to the evening. She covered three tunes that were hits for Lee: “I Love the Way You’re Breaking My Heart,” “Alright, Okay, You Win” and “Fever.” Parrott, a fine bass player, has developed into an engaging singer with a pleasant stage presence. She credits her foray into the vocal side of jazz to the late Les Paul, who she backed at Iridium in New York for 10 years. “Les made me sing,” she told the audience. “One night, he turned around and looked at me with my bass and said. ‘Is that all you do?’”

• She also treated the audience to bass-with-vocals versions of “Bésame Mucho,” “The Best Things in Life Are Free” and a take on Cole Porter’s “Let’s Do It (Let’s Fall In Love)” that featured her own lyrical update. It included a half-dozen clever and very funny contemporary twists to the “birds do it, bees do it” segments.

• Sportiello’s tour de force, which ended the opening set, was a Chopin medley that explored “Nocturne Opus 9 No. 2,” “Fantasie Impromptu” and “Valse Opus 64 No. 1” (the “Minute Waltz”). The middle section as performed by the trio opened at near-triple time pace, then slowed to a ballad as they segued into the waltz. When done well, it is great to hear jazz musicians improvise on the classics. This was one of those times.

• The trio revealed a playful yet robust delicacy on “I Should Care,” which segued into an extended take on a most unexpected treat: the nursery rhyme “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Hard-swinging tunes included “The More I See You,” Tommy Flanagan’s “Sea Changes” and a superb Metz spotlight on “Spanish Eyes.”

Metz got his pro start as a drummer in 1982 when he took a leave of absence from William Paterson College in New Jersey to join the Count Basie Orchestra for six months. Not a bad career boost at all for a music student, though he told me later he thought a prankster was calling until he recognized Basie’s distinctive deep voice. He spent 15 years working steadily in the bands at Walt Disney World in Orlando before freelancing on the jazz festival and jazz party circuit. He’ll take this trio to Switzerland into November and December.

Metz is a frequent series regular, almost a house drummer supporting other visiting artists, but this was the first Port Charlotte visit by Sportiello and Parrott. The 20-years-plus jazz performance series sponsored by the Charlotte County Jazz Society until now always relied heavily on bands featuring horns.

On this Monday night, it was clear that with the right chemistry that tack may not be necessary. Metz, Parrott and Sportiello had the crowd of 200 buzzing during intermission and rising en masse for a standing ovation as the two-and-a-half-hour event wound down.

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