Sunday, January 23, 2011

Jazz Uncensored: Blame It on Their Youth

© Andrea Canter
They looked pretty young up there on the Dakota Jazz Club stage, but to me this new generation of jazz musicians looks younger and younger. Or I am just getting older and older. Big names like Roy Haynes, Kenny Barron and Ramsey Lewis come to town with sidemen one or two (or more) generations removed, typically injecting a fresh vibrancy to the music. A few years go by and we begin to see the sidemen (and women) stepping out as leaders of their own ensembles.

So the trio at the late show Friday night didn’t really look out of place. They could have been advanced college students or newly minted graduates of the country’s top music programs. They played two sets of mostly original compositions penned by the leader/pianist. That in itself speaks volumes about these young artists – they are building an individual repertoire, they are serious about taking the music to a high level, they want to communicate their own ideas, and they have sufficient confidence to sell those ideas to an audience (and management) at one of the nation’s top jazz clubs. Within the music we heard an interesting cross-section of influences, fragments of Fred Hersch, Brad Mehldau, Marilyn Crispell, Craig Taborn, Thelonious Monk, maybe even Debussy; there was exquisite darkness, transcendent light, quirky humor, joy at all tempos. And collaborative exchange—a visible and invisible connection among the musicians. You could tell they play together often and find more inspiration in that interaction.

It wasn’t all original compositions – Miles Davis’ “Nardis” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” filled out the playlist. Despite the numerous interpretations of “Blackbird” that flood modern recordings and performances these days, this one truly reinvented the standard, from the abstract solo piano opening to the sparely-there extraction of melody as the trio wove a new song.

Who are these upstarts? Leader/pianist/composer Quentin Tschofen varies from poetry-in-motion to tiger-on-the-loose, the keyboard (all of it) his playground; bassist Caitlin Kelliher plays with an understated elegance, a sensitive foil and engaging soloist; drummer Emerson Hunton manages time across a diverse rhythmic palette, occasionally taking the spotlight himself with delicate patter or explosive retorts.

We’ll be hearing more from the Quentin Tschofen Trio. Especially after they graduate from high school.

Quentin Tschofen, 16, will graduate from the Lighthouse program of Spring Lake Park Schools in June and currently attends classes at the University of Minnesota through the Post Secondary Options program; Caitlin Kelliher, 17, is a senior at Minneapolis Southwest High School; Emerson Hunton, 17, is a junior at Minneapolis South High School. They are all members of the Dakota Combo. Visit Quentin online at and read more on JazzINK.

Photos: (Top to Bottom), Quentin Tschofen; Caitlin Kelliher; Emerson Hunton; trio at the Dakota on 1/21/11. (Photos by Andrea Canter)