Month: March 2019

The Unity Quartet – 11/29/18

Performance Date: 11/29/18

Artist: The Unity Quartet

Song(s): “Sandu”,  “Bernie’s Tune” 

Full lineup:

  • Ben Reece – Tenor Saxophone
  • Austin Cebulske – Tenor Saxophone
  • Ryan Marquez – Organ
  • Demarius Hicks – Drums

One of the most consistently strong groups that has played The Dark Room is the Unity Quartet. The unique instrumentation is enough to perk up the ear, and the strength of the musicianship entices listeners back again and again.

Led by saxophonist Ben Reece, the quartet featured Austin Cebulske on tenor saxophone, Ryan Marquez on organ, and Demarius Hicks on drums, on this date. Each one of these guys can play up a storm, so having all their voices combined on the same bandstand made for some dynamic musical conversation!

One highlight was early in the set, during “Sandu”. Cebulske takes the first solo, and with Marquez providing a strong harmonic foundation, he eventually blasts off into a higher register, giving the whole band a sound reminiscent of the Saturday Night Live house band during the show’s closing credits. It’s an all out organ-drenched swingin’ soul jam!

The band is great at taking an old standard and updating it with modern, impenetrable rhythms and stylized phrasing. A good example from this set is “Bernie’s Tune.” The groove has a “sneaky” quality to it that is irresistible.

Hicks keeps it extra funky during his drum solo, and a nice exchange develops between Reece and the funky drummer, keeping things interesting, before the main theme of the song reemerges.

Watch the full performance here: https://youtu.be/9z0XT83O80Q

Owen Ragland Quartet – 8/17/18

Performance Date: 8/17/18

Artist: Owen Ragland Quartet

Song(s): “Afro Blue”, “Someday My Prince Will Come”“Let You Go” 

Full lineup:

  • Khamali Cuffie-Moore – Trumpet
  • Tilton Yokley – Bass
  • Owen Ragland – Piano & Keyboards
  • Keith Bowman – Drums

A night with Owen Ragland and crew is guaranteed to be chock full of chilled-out grooves that have more of a modern tilt, with neo-soul, hip-hop, and even electronic influences. Eighteen-year-old Ragland brings this multi-stylistic approach, bolstered by years of piano training, to every Dark Room performance, and it’s a wonder to be able to experience the growth of this young musical mind.

One of the standouts from this particular evening was the now-classic, “Afro-Blue” by Robert Glasper (ft. Erykah Badu). During trumpeter Khamali Cuffie-Moore’s solo, the beat morphs into an impeccable, glitchy modern groove held down by Tilton Yokley (bass) and Keith Bowman (drums).

As we saw in an earlier post, musicians who play with each other consistently start to anticipate their bandmates’ every move. You can see this band developing these complex, non-verbal interactions, which you might call interplay. Wonderful, spontaneous moments able to occur more freely when a band becomes more familiar with each other’s playing style.

A good example of this can be heard here. The open-ended jam begins out of abstraction, like something Philip Glass might come up with. Then, sensing a moment to bring up the energy of the band, Bowman takes his solo. He brings the energy up, takes it down, and then brings it all the way back up again, before silencing himself resolutely to let Ragland’s beautiful piano shine and take the song out…

 

A couple other highlights:

  • Not only does the band do great “Nu jazz”, they’re also adept at the classic jazz sound, exemplified with the group’s rendition of “Someday My Prince Will Come”. Note sprinkles of the blues throughout Cuffie-Moore’s smooth and thoughtful solo.
  • “Let You Go” by Moonchild: Another perfect example of the undeniable groove this band is capable of. The vibe of the group can be credited heavily to both Yokley, whose hip-hop influenced bass sound provides rhythmic variety and harmonic counterpoint, and Bowman, whose heartfelt beats are the foundation for it all.