Road shows

By JON GARELICK  |  February 15, 2007

At Scullers the following night (Thursday the 8th), pianist John Stetch had his own ideas about funk and form. Stetch has all the latter-day bebop pianist’s equipment: the fingers, the touch, the time. His trio — with bassist Sean Smith and drummer Rodney Green — laid down some classic walking-bass-and-ride cymbal swing. But Stetch likes to change things up. His “How Far Is Calisto?” was based, he told the audience, on a combination of “How High the Moon” and Coltrane’s interpolation of it, “Satellite,” played in 5/4 with three-beat stop times. The Nancy Hamilton/Morgan Lewis standard, he explained to me, is a favorite of jazz players because of its odd form; it was the basis for Charlie Parker’s “Anthropology.”

Stetch’s combined love of form — and his desire to manipulate it —was also implied in his original “Rondo.” His “1685” was named for the year of birth of Bach, Handel, and Scarlatti. And his “Black Sea Suite” — inspired by his heritage in Ukraine and Romania — worked through a number of themes, including dance rhythms that alluded to Tchaikovsky and a surging 6/8. Stetch said this was the first time the band had played the piece in live performance, and it kept Smith and Green reading, but it flew. Despite Stetch’s fascination with classical forms, there was never any doubt of his jazz pedigree. His solo take on Monk’s “Bright Mississippi” (itself based on “Sweet Georgia Brown”) returned the music to its earliest roots and brought it back again, solid eighth-note chords in his left hand providing the tension that was released in the runs of his right. It worked its way back to ragtime, up through swing, and back to Monk.

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