Jazz is dead. No, it's just got gangrene. Jazz has arthritis and hemorrhoids. No, it's alive and well, quite regular and livin' it up in Toledo. No, it is the epitome of stuck. Yes, it needs a young blood transfusion. No, it needs a facelift, it needs to get ugly again or pretty or danceable. Blah blah bleeeeeach!

  Jazz opinions are like probation officers--everyone's got one sooner or later.
  So, when Superfly guitarist Craig McMullen tells me the other day he's playing that night at Natalie's Coal Fired Pizza with the James Gaiter Soul Revival, I'm thinking, 'effin' great, man--pizza, Superfly soul-funk-wah-wah-jazz, in a great little joint in deeper suburbia, what's not to like?
  Turns out there was nothing not to like, even the fact that it wasn't a “soul revue” or “review” as we jazz-soul lovers know it, nor was it a jazz “revival.” Some false advertising because the word “jazz” means boredom for most Americans? Perhaps. Did the band revive jazz? Didn't feel that way. How could it when you know it never died for them?
  More on the name bit later.
  Yes, the lads played some dy-no-mite straight-ahead post-bop jazz and damn, was it good. James Gaiter on drums, Craig the guitar, the fearsome Eddie Bayard on tenor sax and John Eshelman on keyboards played with a lot of musicianly virtues--proficiency, talent, passion, and yes, with many heartbeats of feeling so the human soul element of the jazz was warm and plentiful, like the sweet heat emanating from the banks of red hot glowing coals in Miss Natalie's Navajo oven. And I won't even bother qualifying my soul statement by saying they technically did it. Nah, dey was straight-up sweating. You can't not sweat and not be at least somewhat soulful no matter what music you're playing.
  Do you realize how many negatives I just packed into that sentence? My English teacher in the tenth grade, where I spent several of my formative years, Mrs. Adams, is either spinning in her grave or reeling in her rocker. But I'm being soul-positive with those negatives, dig?
  The veteran quartet hit their stride, oh, about 35 seconds into their opener with Eddie Harris's Cryin' Blues. Bayard took off like a Roman Candle with Hunter S. Thompson's remains in it. He doesn't solo, he explodes and we see what he is made of--a Hendrix-like onslaught of emotional ideas and brilliant emotions.
  But shoot, that was nothing compared to how he poured it on like a Marine machine gunner on Guadalcanal wiping out a Jap banzai attack as the lengthy opener progressed and everyone round-robin-ed. I think, on occasion during nearly every major solo, our dear Mr. Bayard played with moments of sheer fury. I would not like to cross him in real life. No.
  Next up: Duke Ellington's Caravan. Written by one Juan Tizol, first performed by the Duke in 1936, and marvelously twisted by the four-jazz toppings on the pizza place's stage. Bayard went dynamo his pyrotechnic cartwheels had him riffing riffs new and unknown (to me). I became fascinated by Gaiter's right hand keeping a tic-tic-ticking time on his huge (to me) ride cymbal, his left hand adding thoughtful, chatty little flourishes and his foot supplying choice love bombs with his bass pedal. Like I say, what's not to like? I repeatedly went back to his right hand throughout the set.
  Eshelman and McMullen did their solos, Esh on electric organ and piano and Craig Mac on large electric hollow body guitar. While Gaiter's intense right hand swatting at gnats murdering dozens upon dozens with his tic-tic-ticks, Esh and Mac were mos def Bayard's wing men puttin' a straight-ahead bop head on the Duke's melodic exotica. Caravan traveled well with Gaiter's Revival and I was surprised a quartet was pulling it off with such heat. What a good little group, what a cool little group.
  When Sunny Gets Blue (music by Jack Segal/lyrics Nat King Cole) had Gaiter on brushes--his tics were now swishes and there's a place in my heart for drummers using brushes. So much accomplished with so much less. They whisper, they sigh, they breathe. The band treated the ballad like a girl who meant everything to them. Bayard's fierceness turned tender, Esh and Mac subtly caressed her with chords heavy as feathers and little nudging notes nuzzling earlobe kisses. What a bunch of romantics.
  Then it was Thelonious Monk's Bye-Ya from his Monk's Dream album, an off-the-wall typical Monk piece with a few kinks of the monkey's tail in it, the Review still blowing it out with straight-ahead energy. Gaiter's right-hand was back snapping time on the ride, Bayard like a vacuum cleaner, sucking up massive amounts of air then spitting out notes like Trump's rolodex spittin' out blondes' phone numbers--alternately raw and creatively classy, sexy as hell.
  As I wolfed down my fine-ass pizza, the band pushing and pulling and playing with an energy much larger than their quartet would seem to suggest, I thought you pulled it off, Mr. Gaiter. You don't play soul music per se, you don't do a soul-funk-jazz version of Sam & Dave's Hold On I'm Comin', you don't incorporate anything newer than '72, you don't use the great Craig Mac wah-wah abilities, yet you pulled it off like a mofo. I so enjoyed it.
  Still, you call yourselves the James Gaiter Soul Revival. Advance the plot. Play some soul jazz with Superfly-telling- Shaft-to-shove-it funk/wah/bitchin'- Bitches-Brew riffs. Make that legend of a guitar player just do what he did and does best: play chords while Esh slams colors and Eddie is told to play like he's in prison fighting off the Aryan Brotherhood in the shower. And you can keep bombing the beat. Jazz needs so much to make it popular again, not just reviving it, though I agree it is dead. But you guys can make it live again. Because you believe in musical reincarnation. I know you guys can do it. Because you're a great good little group. You're the town's coolest little group, really. I mean it.


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