Positive Feedback Logo

Jon Mayer Solo: LIVE! in Portland

11-20-2014 | By Jim Merod | Issue 76

Jazz pianists are the archivists and barometric interpreters of the Great American songbook, a repository of melodic brilliance that legendary pianist Tommy Flanagan frequently called attention to. One Friday night @ ELARIO'S jazz club atop the Summer House Inn in La Jolla, playing to a packed room, Tommy noted that not all jazz trios or ensembles owned that essential cache of musical magnificence. "But we do," he asserted to uproarious appreciation.

Jon Mayer has been a fixture on the Los Angeles jazz scene for long years of association with his working trio, that includes bassist Darek Oles and all-time heavyweight drummer-extraordinaire Roy McCurdy, and others as the occasion demands. His recorded legacy, too small for a player of his capacity, has recently grown by one solid release from a solo gig before an attentive audience in Portland, Oregon, that was arranged by local jazz and piano aficionado George Fendel. The album's somewhat portentous title, The Art of the Ballad, plunges us precisely where Mayer's performances go... unswervingly and with care directly toward the central dignity and decency of feeling at the heart of the songbook that Tommy Flanagan was right to identify himself with fully.

Here, across an arc of twelve ballads, Jon Mayer surveys territory that never grows boring. His quiet reading of "Round Midnight" and "My One and Only Love" open into not just a tradition of musical thought and feeling under siege by the fractious juvenilia of contemporary culture, but suggest the more profound fact that our long tradition of such delicate pathos and ecstasy constructs a world of its own that deserves unbroken respect and nurture.

 That is exactly what Mayer's gentle touch accomplishes. This disc is both a gorgeous demonstration of the "art" at the core of our musical heritage and an unself-conscious lesson in artistic understanding. I use this term, understanding, in its deepest Germanic Enlightenment thrust: verstehen, which literally is a "standing under." Mayer's care and rectitude impart grace to songs that seem to breathe with self- redemptive honesty. The lesson that such pianistic elegance imparts can be found in the value of personal subordination to the superior value of art's transcendent nobility. One "stands under" any value or concept that holds power to bring attentive intelligence more concretely into the world. Inevitably, artistic and spiritual subordination transcends banality, reviving awareness of the best in our natures.

A solo recital of the sort we find here in Jon Mayer's Oregon concert enacts a form of the sacred without the trappings and ritual obsessions of institutional worship. It is a secular giving of thanks and attentive appreciation for the possibility of emotional uplift, nonetheless.

Mayer's forte resides with an astute pianistic voicing of long-venerated standards that carry meaning's promise continually undergoing self-renewal with each rehearsal. Just that dignified voicing is on display throughout this session. The whole is a fortunate gathering of splendid parts in which its wholeness is organic and relaxed, immediate and ageless.