It was no surprise that the Chris Molyneaux Jazz Trio show at the Lawrence House in Sarnia last Friday (Nov. 16) was an excellent one. That it was sold out wasn’t a surprise either. After seeing the trio play three times over the last several months and watching them captivate audiences the fact that they were going to be good was a given. Their combination of musicianship and stage smarts insures it’s always a treat to observe them doing it though.
The three musicians are all exceptional on their own. Bassist Wesley Collett-Taylor reads and reacts to what his bandmates do then builds foundations under their work that he enriches with tasteful nuggets of ornamentation. Mark Athanasiadis is an amazingly economical drummer. Or at least it seems that way until his playing is heard. Then it sounds like someone is doing a lot back there. Both sentiments are accurate. There are times his playing is very elaborate but he never wastes a motion doing it. Chris Molyneaux is a pure expressionist. Whether it’s with the saxophone, which is his instrument of choice, or the clarinet, nothing comes through without shadings to provide emotional colour and atmosphere. Literally everything he does serves the songs.
Together, they’re something. Chris is like a boxer who feints, responds with and then resumes his stance when he reacts to cues or unexpected changes. The same facet is in Mark’s playing. Both are autistic, which may, or may not be a factor; it’s been suggested that a different part of the brain is in use. That could be a factor. Whatever the case, it’s incredible to watch. Wesley reads with an overview of what his bandmates are doing and then ties it together. Those roles aren’t clearly defined though. All three are virtuosos in addition to being natural collaborators. When one steps up the other two provide support. That roles often change unexpectedly adds to the excitement.
The no-frills approach they take toward stagecraft makes it easy to miss how adeptly they orchestrate the dynamics of their sets. Each of the two they played was presented as a complete show. ’Billie’s Bounce’ by Charlie Parker was familiar and upbeat, perfect for inviting audiences in. ‘All Of Me’ was slightly more introspective but still welcoming. Both songs were presented with very short introductions to avoid compromising the flow of energy created by the music. An original number (‘Up For Grabs’ from their CD) was played before going back to familiar ground with ‘My One And Only Love’ by John Coltrane. More original material followed before closing the set on a high note with Herbie Hancock’s ‘Cantaloupe Island’. The second set they played followed a similar path. They aren’t just great musicians. They know how to present the music to its best advantage.
The original material from their new CD, ‘Closer To Home’, was superb. ‘Up For Grabs’ literally announced that something special was happening. ‘Begin Again’ started with a bit of grey and atmospheric bowing from the bass before the sax came through amidst languid washes from the cymbals. ‘Restoration’ was filled with life and the joy of pulling out of an abyss. ’Someone’s Husband’, the lone composition by Taylor. sparkled with the humour it was written with.
They weren’t quite perfect. The expression Chris has in his singing was good but not quite as relaxed as what shone through in his playing. That’ll will come with more experience though and it’s small enough to be less than a minute blemish on what they did. Each show I watch them play has a way of becoming the best performance seen in recent memory and this fell right into step.
Great band and great performers: They illustrate why a show that’s about the music first can be captivating.