Ehud Asherie Redux

From stride to bop, the pianist keeps it fresh

I enthused over Ehud Asherie two years ago on this blog, and my appreciation for the pianist only grows. I’ve seen him twice since then, and two or three new recordings have appeared as well, so the Israeli-born New Yorker remains in view.  He’s lately been working with the great clarinetist and saxophonist Ken Peplowski, and I heard them for the first time on Saturday night at Small’s. They make for an inspired front-line pairing (David Wong was on bass, Aaron Kimmel on drums), and that includes some on-stage banter that by my count elicited a few more chuckles than groans from the packed house. (Note: Smalls audiences continually belie the notion that jazz has no traction with youth. Hard-swinging music up close, a genial vibe off the bandstand, and the no-frills basics of the club apparently make a difference.)

I’m eager to hear Peps and Ehud on record someday, but the highlight of Saturday night’s set Asherie-wise was his trio feature, Sonny Rollins’ “The Stopper.” The tune’s jagged, start-stop contours are a perfect vehicle for Ehud’s commanding chops and his tendency to add a little old school flourish to his keyboard attack.

Asherie has a new trio release, Music Makes Me, that I’m featuring in tonight’s Jazz a la Mode. The trio includes Neal Miner on bass and Phil Stewart on drums. The record has a beautiful live sound, and the trio is tight. Tunes include rarely heard gems by Eubie Blake (“Bandana Days,” “Good Night, Angeline”), Fats Waller (“Willow Tree”), and Sidney Bechet’s “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere,” which is enjoying a second life thanks largely to its prominence in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. I heard it played by both Aurora Nealand and Tim Laughlin last month in New Orleans. Its wistful feeling is exquisitely conveyed by Asherie, who says he was turned on to the tune while working with Bechet’s protege, Bob Wilber.

Here’s a terrific view of the pianist playing his solo on “Mixed Emotions.” It’s from a 2007 session, Lock Out , that features tenor saxophonist Grant Stewart. Check it out and see if you don’t agree that there’s nothing mixed about the awe he inspires.

It looks like awe registering on the faces of singer Becky Kilgore and trombonist Dan Barrett as they listen here to Asherie’s solo on “Tea for Two.”  The Vincent Youmans’ tune has been a jazz keyboard showpiece for decades, and its recorded legacy includes performances by the pianists who constitute Ehud’s pantheon: Art Tatum, Fats Waller, Teddy Wilson, Bud Powell, and Thelonious Monk.


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