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Why Not Jazz with Bert Seager & Friends

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Sep 23rd, 2018

Bert Seager, Simon Willson, Brian O'Neill, Rick DiMuzio

Bert Seager and players concluded the evening jazz series of concerts at Music Mountain in Falls Village on a mellow, intimate, free-flowing scale that highlighted a wandering variety of jazz meditations. For a few years a cellist played with Seager’s Why quartet. She recently left and was replaced by Rick DiMuzio who plays soprano clarinet and sax (and who also is a composer). Their new moniker is now Why Not? Advertising promised “unexpected sonic landscapes,”which is what this chamber quarter delivered in a program of all-Seager compositions.

They opened with “Snowsprite” which offered a jazzy, impressionistic landscape of notes in free fall from a white sheet of paper that recreated white piano notes sliding off the page. As notes fell, one felt like they were melting on one’s lips, as well as the floor. I think Debussy would have enjoyed this piece if he had not become a legend. The night air was cooling on the mountain and management had even turned on the heaters. I felt I was being gently transported into autumn with an anticipation of the first snowflakes of winter. (After the first or second snowfall there is little poetry in snowflakes.) Simon Willson on bass supplied a robust undercurrent that carried resonance.

The next piece was in the vein of Dave Brubeck with a 5-4 time signature. DiMuzio’s clarinet had the opportunity of taking the lead, adding real excitement. This was a more conversational composition where Simon Willson on bass could then cast a mellow sheet over DiMuzio’s clarinet. Brian O’Neill on drums and percussion instruments (he had about twenty, most of them tiny) delivered deft seasoning as if he was the unnoticed spice-man who supplied the real flavor.

“Winter Gold,” the name of a crab apple tree which remains notably famous for its lush white and pink blossoms, put the audience back into the world of Wordsworth and Keats, Corot and Pissaro, or perhaps springtime Japan where Seager’s compositions may be more appreciated than in the U. S. After establishing the mood, Seager’s piano relinquished the lead to DiMuzio who broadened the vista to blue skies. The flowering apple trees received their true setting on a sunny blue day.

"Wait List" employed both counterpoint and improvisation by way of alternation.

During one of his three fellowship stints at the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire, Seager found himself lost in the woods. That experience inspired a wandering mediation which created a sense of being lost in beauty. This suspenseful derangement was a delight as it exhibited the quiet self-confidence of this composer who whose gentle core character remains unflappable. Here was candid confession, autobiographical reminiscence, even self-mocking humor in DiMuzio’s clarinet, all transformed into ambient glow, held together not by will but by coping with whatever circumstances life offers. O’Neill’s deft and unobtrusive percussion contributed greatly to the subtlety of this piece.

The second set opened with “Re-inventing the Wheeler,” a tribute to trumpeter Vinny Wheeler, which appears on Seager’s album Lettuce Play. All four players opened with a chorale in four-part harmony and concluded this work with another chorale (as if the composition itself was a wheel). Adopting the half-step style of Wheeler, they wheeled around Wheeler’s aesthetic.

Responding to current events, “Fake Blues” allowed O’Neill to dominate the rhythm and deliver his infectious sense of mischief and joy. DiMuzio got in some good saxophone licks and Seager on piano delivered dissonant edges to his chords. Despite the high drama of this edgy piece, it ended with a soft, mellow mood.

“For Perry” was dedicated to the wife of one of Seager’s students who married her just after graduation. Four days after their marriage, her husband (Seager’s student) was found to have a possibly fatal cancer. This piece was written as work of consolation with an optimistic conclusion, which happily turned out to be prophetically correct.

“Persian melon” was a long piece with Turkish rebetiko rhythms where O’Neill unleashed his armory of percussion instruments, including the Celtic bodhran. Yet it was DiMuzio on sax who dominated, while Willson on bass provided a memorable solo. This was seamless, hybrid genius.

For encore, they played an extended version of “Secret Love,” popularized by Doris Day. This was a delightful, modest concert: genteel white jazz at flowering climax.