The Lynne Arriale Trio, Rachel Z and Monika Herzig Acoustic Project: Woman Power at the Jazz Factory

By Martin Kasdan Jr

March was Women's History Month; whether it was coincidence or planned, I cannot say, but the Jazz Factory featured three strong women pianists that month. The first was the Lynne Arriale Trio featuring Steve Davis on drums and Thomson Kneeland on bass, which made a triumphant return to The Jazz Factory on Friday March 9 in support of their latest release: Live (Motema Music MTM‑00007); this performance was reviewed here last month.

Rachel Z returned to The Jazz Factory on Wednesday, March 14, in support of her latest release Department of Good and Evil (Savoy Jazz 17630). Her bandmates, bassist Maeve Royce and drummer Bobby Rae are both on her latest release Department of Good and Evil (Savoy Jazz 17630), produced by Rae. Many of the pieces played throughout both sets incorporated her love of intelligent pop and rock music as well as jazz and were from the new CD. An example was the opening "Soul Meets Body" by Deathcab for Cutie, featuring Mingus-like basswork and Elvinish drumming - a strong reconstruction of the alt-pop song. Next was the Church's "Under the Milky Way," an intricately interlaced work featuring Rae's work with both brushes and sticks. Sting's "King of Pain," Joe Henderson's "The Inner Urge," an original whose title I didn't catch and Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb" followed and what was most impressive was the collective ability of the trio to take familiar pop songs and allow them to take on new lives through improvisation. In fact, "Inner Urge" and Herbie Hancock's "ESP" in the second set were the only compositions from the jazz canon. For older listeners, perhaps only Neil Young and Bill Withers were the only recognizable pop composers, contributing "Heart of Gold" and "Ain't No Sunshine," respectively, to the second set songlist. Depeche Mode's "It's No Good" and Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" allowed more contemporary composers jazz exposure.

The highlight for me, however, was Bobby Rae's "Saint of New Orleans," a suite he composed for the musicians of the birthplace of Jazz. It opened with spare piano, complementing bowed bass, which led into Rae's mallet work and a faster section in which Maeve switched to pizzicato and concluded with a slower segment. In a post-performance conversation, Rae said that he "envisioned the piece as beginning with a cinematic overhead shot of New Orleans at night, moving into a sea storm swirling - the eruption we play - after the levees broke and then an epic calm aftermath." Rae noted strong emotional ties, stating that he sent a drum set to the city for its musicians to use. He also discussed his role as producer of the new CD and a focus on establishing the Department of Good and Evil as a group, with other projects such as a string section to augment the trio from time to time. Ms. Z, as the best-known member of the group (her resume includes work with such diverse artists as Wayne Shorter and Peter Gabriel) is taking an unusual step by promoting not "the Rachel Z Trio," but "the Department of Good and Evil;" it is a step which merits applause and a chorus of best wishes as she showcases the considerable talents of Rae and Maeve as well as herself.

The Monika Herzig Acoustic Project had the misfortune of playing on Saturday March 25, the same night as the truly legendary B.B. King was in town for what may have been his last Louisville date. The relatively light crowd did not deter he Bloomington, Indiana jazz pianist, who celebrated the release of her new CD, What Have You Gone and Done? (Acme 005MA-84922) with good cheer. She was joined by Kenny Phelps on drums, Frank Smith on bass and husband Peter Kienle on guitar, the same lineup as on the CD (which also featured a few guests). Her sets included a mix of 1960s-1970s rock and pop songs, such as "the Beatles' "Hey Jude" and "With a Little Help from My Friends," Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," John Lennon's "Imagine," and Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." American Songbook tunes included "The Song Is You" and "What Is this Thing Called Love." The sets were filled out with originals, such as the pretty waltz "The Call," the uptempo shuffle "One Size Fits All," the midtempo guitar scorcher "And the Blues Must Go On," the almost Gospel feel of "The Hill Country," and the somber "Evening Mood." Herzig's infectious smile throughout the night was a nonmusical inspiration. Smith's basswork and Phelps' drumming remained flexible, in service to the music. Kienle frequently seemed bemused by the proceedings, sharing his wife's positive and upbeat outlook. The CD, with many of the songs featured in concert, is available through, if you can't find it locally. Throughout the night, Herzig played acoustic piano, but her prior work with fusion band Beeblebrox (whose releases are also on Acme), demonstrates her skills on electric keyboards. Herzig is also involved with many educational projects for students of all ages and is committed to spreading the word about women musicians and composers, through workshops and recordings. Her formidable skills deserve more than regional exposure.