Discipline In a Muted Sound – Lewis Nash
by Ben Ratliff
THE ARTS In Performance
JAZZ: January 29, 2003
Kaplan Penthouse

A small subcategory of jazz is maked by typically African-American musical expression — carrying distinct elements of blues and gospel — and filtered through a silencer. Or to put it another way, the music is imprinted by such precise attention to dynamic control that a strange quiescence results.

The Modern Jazz Quartet is famous for that sound. John Lewis, of that group, derived some of his thinking from Count Basie’s 1930’s bands. But other groups of the quartet’s time (Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Horace Silver’s groups, Miles Davis’s quintets) controlled a greater share in the jazz language then and since, and this more delicate sound isn’t often heard.

Lewis Nash, a remarkably subtle, swinging drummer, resurrects it. His concert on Thursday was part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s season dedicated to the drum, yet if you hadn’t known, it wouldn’t have been easy to tell that a drummer ran the group. You could say for sure, however, that it was a person of discipline.

Thad Jones’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Nu” was determined by a septet’s blaze of sequential soloing; some Celtic songs by trilling melodies harmonized between two lead instruments; an original minor blues, “106 Nix” by an MJQ-like quartet sound; Tommy Flanagan’s “Mean Streets” by a tight piano-bass-drums arrangement. In the first set, the group onstage grew smaller, song by song. The second set began with Mr. Nash solo, then in a duet with saxophonist Steve Wilson and gradually grew larger again.

Each permutation of the group played with a nearly perfect distribution of sound — so much so that it seemed we were hearing a postproduction mix from a studio session. It wasn’t a fluke ; that’s what good bandleading sounds like.