Problem was, it’s not so easy to hear those bands at the Beehive. The space is cool as all-get-out — brick-lined catacombs, with a bar on the upper level that overlooks the music area downstairs. But unless you’re lucky enough to get into the small area fronting the bandstand, you’re out of luck. All that brick makes for a noisy place — a constant din of conversation — and anyone sitting in the main part of the dining room won’t be able to hear the music in any detail.
Sitting in the dining room for the first set, I could tell that the pan-American-jazz band Tantanakuy had a tight rhythm section and singer Eleonora Bianchini a soaring voice. When I was able to move into the stage area, I heard impressive flamenco-style picking from guitarist Michel Gonzalez. But the work of Tantanakuy — led by Argentines Marcelo Woloski (drums) and Andres Rotmistrovsky (bass) — is better heard on The New Old School. (Tantanakuy play the Roxbury Center for the Arts at Hibernian Hall July 25 at 6 pm. Bianchini returns to the Beehive August 21).
In front of the stage for the second set, I got a much better earful of guitarist Jake Hertzog and his trio — and was glad of it. The wiry, diminutive six-stringer, his unruly locks tied back, has many of the Metheny earmarks that you’ve maybe come to love and fear at once: the daunting fingerwork, the harmonic inventiveness, the organic, riff-based melodic freedom, the folk-like melodies. Along with the wow! factor comes the fear of just too damned much.
But for more than an hour, Hertzog and his trio kept it coming — and to good effect. They began with “Monkey Stuff,” from the Revelation CD, and it was typical: a start-stop theme that fashioned angular single-note passages with power-chord exclamations and a funk beat, releasing into a solo of walking-bass swing and a whole lotta eighth notes. Nice! Hertzog and his trio mixed swing, funk, and freedom all night, and he played tickly rhythmic hide-and-seek with acoustic bassist Takashi Sugawa and drummer Zach Mangan. Sugawa in particular is a wonder, ripping off buzzing high-end double stops, guitar-like runs, and “bass-y” rhythmic figures and countermelodies. The trio were getting ready to take off for Montreux, where they’ll be joined by alto-sax Alex Terrier, another standout from the Berklee disc. One only hopes the same group will come this way again. The next Berklee night at the Beehive, July 24, will feature world-music group Zili Misik.
“I’m sorry, this is my third language,” apologized the flutist who calls himself Geni as he wrote out the names of tunes and band members for me at Ryles last Wednesday. Where else but in Boston would I meet a guy from Albania who specializes in Japanese flute? Geni (Marenglen Skendo) came here in 2003 after hitting the professional ceiling in his home country — educated at the Academy of Arts, he’d been playing jazz and opera gigs. He studied at Berklee and dropped out after one scholarship semester when he couldn’t afford to go on his own dime. Since then, he’s been working in a sandwich shop, playing out, and studying the traditional Japanese bamboo flute the shakuhachi, an instrument he was drawn to after hearing it on the soundtrack of the TV movie Shogun. He found the instrument and started practicing. “You know when you find something cool and you just want to do it and do it?”