Charley Krachy Quintet, Beacon, New York

Tristano adherents play standards, contrafacts and freer items before a capacity audience

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Left to right: Kazzrie Jaxen (p), Charley Krachy (ts), Gary Levy (as), Don Messina (b) and Skip Scott (d) at Howland Cultural Centre, Beacon, NY, October 2019.

The historic Hudson Valley venue has recently hosted talents as diverse as Robin Holcomb, Ikue Mori and Mike Baggetta. This Sunday afternoon featured musicians associated with the Lennie Tristano school – Charley Krachy (tenor sax), Gary Levy (alto sax), Kazzrie Jaxen, (piano/vocals), Don Messina (bass) and Skip Scott (drums).

Krachy studied with leading Tristano saxophonist Lenny Popkin and with pianist Connie Crothers. Kazzrie Jaxen was a pupil of Tristano from 1973 till his death in 1978, and subsequently a student of Connie Crothers. Don Messina was a student of Sal Mosca pupil Fred Amend, and is a big fan of Oscar Pettiford – this is clear from the way he favours the pure sound of the wood, with modest amplification using a microphone through the sound system. He and Skip Scott were Sal Mosca’s rhythm section in his later years, and frequent participants at Mosca’s weekly sessions from 2000 to 2007.

The publicity rightly proclaimed the band’s “straight-ahead swing and spontaneous improvisation… [striving] to express the beauty of a melodic line” – and the performances showed a compelling groove. Tristano’s disciples often talk of his “note to note” approach, by which is meant that playing should be spontaneous and in the moment, without licks or pre-planned material. Tristano insisted on rigorous attention to the work of swing and bebop giants Lester Young and Charlie Parker, and Charley Krachy, in particular, is a follower of Pres. Kazzrie Jaxen has developed Tristano’s approach into a unique and unusual style.

As with their mentor, the band’s repertoire is standards, compositions based on them (contrafacts), and occasional freer playing. The first set began with Smog Eyes, a Ted Brown contrafact on There’ll Never Be Another You – with a Lester Young-style solo by the leader. Lee Konitz’s Subconscious-Lee, based on Cole Porter’s What Is This Thing Called Love, was followed by The Dean’s List by Don Messina, based on It’s You Or No One. The freest performance was the haunting The Mirror Calls by Jaxen. The set concluded with an immensely enjoyable interpretation of the standard, That Old Feeling.

The second set opened with Moonlight In Vermont, and then featured the band playing behind poet Mark Weber as he read from his work. You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To was then followed by Charlie Parker’s Confirmation, which was introduced by Marsh/Konitz style counterpoint by the two saxophonists. Tristano’s 317 E 32nd Street, based on Out Of Nowhere, was followed by a remarkable version of Lennie’s Pennies – Tristano’s composition based on Pennies From Heaven in a minor key – powered by Jaxen’s sustained boogie-woogie piano. This was an astonishing performance, that showed the boogie-woogie is surprisingly compatible with jazz modernism. It closed a memorable gig, much appreciated by the capacity audience.

Charley Krachy Quintet – Krachy (ts); Gary Levy (as), Kazzrie Jaxen (p, v); Don Messina (b); Skip Scott (d). Howland Cultural Center, Beacon, New York, 29 September 2019.