Sunday, October 26, 2014


Jason Yeager

This past Friday, October 24 I went to see the Jason Yeager Trio featuring several special guests at the Regattabar in Cambridge. Jason Yeager is a jazz pianist, composer, and educator based in New York City. Yeager recently released a CD entitled "Affirmation" featuring Matt Rousseau on drums, Danny Weller on bass; as well as special guests Noah Preminger on tenor saxophone and Aubrey Johnson on vocals. To learn more about Yeager, visit his website.

The Jason Yeager Trio featuring special guests 
Noah Preminger and Aubrey Johnson

The first song of the night was a new composition dedicated to Yeager's violinist friend Jason Annick entitled "Harlem Hoedown". This song had a bluegrass tinge to it. Right off the bat I noticed the collaborative sound of the group, and how each member focused on call and response of different motivic phrases. 

Following, special guest Aubrey Johnson sang a sensitive ballad "Achi". The vocals did not have lyrics, instead most of the words were produced using pure vowels such as "ahh" and "oh". Johnson's vocal quality reminded me a lot of Astrud Gilberto from "The Girl from Ipanema". Weller's bass solo fit into the open spaces between the piano comping, carving out a line within the contour of the harmony. Rousseau comped with light hits on the strong parts of the beat. Yeager's piano soloing was quite light, mirroring Johnson's vocals by quoting the melody. 

Aubrey Johnson

Yeager showcased his arranging skills with a cover of John Lennon's song "Julia" from the Beatles "White" album. Yeager arranged the song by changing the rhythmic feel, phrasing of the melody, and adding some new re-harmonizations of the chords to provide a different atmosphere to the piece. "Julia" was based widely around Johnson's vocals, which provided clear, precise diction and a pure tone to enunciate each lyric. 

Following, Yeager slimmed the group back down to a trio, with "Twelve Etude", dedicated to Jerry Leake, a music teacher at Berklee and New England Conservatory who "gave exercises that did not feel like exercises; it was learning by discovery." "Twelve Etude" was largely nonlinear, and Yeager's piano solo was based on heavy chords and syncopated rhythms. In this way, Yeager focused much of his energy on complimenting Rouseau's drum patterns by utilizing different polyrhythms.

Yeager then brought out special guest Noah Preminger to play "Blues for Billy P." inspired by the main protagonist in Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse Five", Billy Pilgrim. The work centered around the idea that Billy Pilgrim is left "unstuck in time" in the novel. Preminger's style reminded me of Lester Young in "Blues for Billy P." by his simple melodic ideas played with soft vibrato. 

Noah Preminger

After, the trio was again joined by Johnson for the Gershwin standard, "But Not for Me". This tune is one of my favorite songs on the album "Chet Baker Sings". Johnson sang the verse and the chorus, interpreting the melody by bending and holding notes, while also adding a bit of acting to the lyrics. Johnson's scat soloing was influenced by Ella Fitzgerald in the horn like quality of her lines, while utilizing a broad range. Yeager was definitely influenced by the melodic material, and quoted the melody in his solo. 

The trio played the title track, "Affirmation", which was an introspective song. "Stumble Bop" was my favorite song of the night, and reminded me of the Thelonious Monk song "Epistrophy" with its almost childish spiral quality to the lines. Everyone in the band emulated a singer by playing with bounciness and expressiveness. "Smiled First" was a tune inspired by Yeager meeting his partner Julie at a Starbucks; Yeager claimed she smiled first. This song had a mysterious shape to it, just like the subject matter, and seemed to flow like a film score, because the audience could piece together the events surrounding the song. 

Danny Weller

Finally, Yeager ended the set with "Keep the Fire", in honor of Danillo Perez. Perez wrote Yeager a note telling him to keep the fire, and that his spirit inspired him. This moment led Yeager to write an energetic, vibrant piece much like Perez's own music. Each member of the band used space within their solos in a way that ensured each line was building off of a group consensus in the moment.  

Final Thoughts: 
The Jason Yeager Trio
Every time I go out to hear live music, I see the excitement and pure joy within each crowd. This jubilance is an affirmation that live music is where jazz lives.  

As always, please read my jazz poetry blog, Without a Poem, where I improvise a new poem everyday without editing my thoughts!

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