Thursday, May 10, 2012


© Andrea Canter

Over the past few months, the Artists Quarter has scheduled a lot of familiar faces in unfamiliar combinations, and the common denominators have been bassist Billy Peterson and drummer Kenny Horst. Typically in a quartet, this timekeeping team has shared the stage with pianists and mostly horn specialists. I  have not yet heard a configuration that failed to gel, and the odds certainly favored at least occasional bouts of dynamic cohesion. This past weekend, the stars—as well as the moon—fell into perfect alignment with what proved to be a magical collaboration among Peterson, Horst, guitarist Dean Magraw, and pianist Bryan Nichols. Hardly strangers to either the AQ or each other, as a quartet it was an inaugural meeting. You would never know it. And by the last set Saturday night, the ensemble was beating like a single, four-chambered heart. Dean even told the audience, “This is us, selling you our hearts and exploring with joy.”

And there was no greater joy, inward or outward, than Billy Peterson’s extended solo introducing “Alone Together” on the second night. Initially, the late set crowd generated an annoying din (unfortunately not uncommon during bass solos), but Billy’s magical fingers penetrated even the rowdiest ears behind the bar. None were immune to those layers of sound. For nearly ten minutes he danced on four strings, his choreography creating as much visual as aural artistry – every finger sliding “alone and together,” hopping up and down, squeals and bops and languid moans. If a cat played the upright bass, he would be Billy Peterson, shifting positions like a slinky and covering vast territory in the blink of an ear, graceful and ferocious. And yielding every sound of an orchestra.

And together, the ensemble intrigued and informed, soothed and inspired, agitated and resolved through standards that are both ever-present (“Softly As in a Morning Sunrise,” “Footprints,” “Rhythm-a-ning”) and too often neglected (“I Fall in Love Too Easily,” “Speak Low”). Dean and Bryan have performed a few duo gigs and their sublime “Too Late Now” was ample evidence that their pairing deserves more bookings.  As does this quartet.

Photos: (top) Composite from the Artists Quarter (Nichols, Magraw, Peterson, Horst); Billy Peterson; Dean Magraw (all photos by Andrea Canter)