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August 2, 2021

Benito Gonzalez Trio celebrates McCoy Tyner's music

By SARAH JUNG | April 9, 2021

benito-trio-screenshot

COURTESY OF SARAH JUNG

The Benito Gonzalez Trio played "Sama Layuca" at Keystone Korner Baltimore. 

The Benito Gonzalez Trio gave a live-streamed jazz performance at Keystone Korner Baltimore on April 3 to celebrate McCoy Tyner. The trio included pianist Benito Gonzalez, bassist Essiet Okon Essiet and drummer Billy Hart. 

McCoy Tyner was a famous jazz pianist and won five Grammy Awards during his career. He is best known for his involvement with the John Coltrane Quartet as well as the music he composed after he left the group. The Benito Gonzalez Trio performed some of Tyner’s well-known jazz pieces with effortless teamwork. 

The trio started right after entering the stage with the piece “Fly with the Wind.” According to Gonzalez, it was the opening track of Tyner’s 1976 album of the same name. The piece began with a suspenseful entrance, with the piano playing a flurry of notes in the lower registers of the piano scale. Hart continued to play the drum in the background, providing a light shimmering effect during the piece. 

Gonzalez and Essiet tossed the beginning melody back and forth, which was enjoyable to hear because it created harmony within the performance. Gonzalez’s movement on the piano emphasized his soulful playing of the piece and also added spirit to the stage. Embedded in the piece were lively tremolos and scales that ascended and descended smoothly, giving subtle variations in the music. 

Essiet’s agile hand movement over the bass strings created a clean-cut sound that matched up precisely with Gonzalez’s left-hand playing. Meanwhile, Hart continued with a steady rhythm on the drums that helped the pacing of the story being told through the jazz music. Hart’s drum solo in the middle was a compelling explosion of drums and the occasional tap on the cymbals. 

“[It is a] huge honor to be back here at this legendary venue where so many great records were made,” Gonzalez said after the first piece. “Today, we are celebrating the music of a piano hero.”

Watching the members exchange musical cues with smiles and eye contact added to the liveliness of the concert. It reminded me of what in-person concerts used to be like — the music is perceptibly more harmonious and coordinated for the listener when there are visible cues.

The trio continued their performance with a piece titled “Sama Layuca.” The beginning emitted a nervous, unpredictable feeling with slightly dissonant chords and scales played by Gonzalez. The opening included a melody that was begun by all members of the trio and then passed onto Essiet for the rest of the music. Essiet’s role with the melody underscored his technical skills as a bassist. His quick pizzicato that was quick yet heavy enough to play each note appeared effortless. As the song neared the end, Gonzalez ended with a dramatic trill on the piano and played the initial melody of “Sama Layuca” at a faster tempo.

The third composition, titled “Inner Glimpse,” had a more playful mood that was also properly conveyed by the trio’s musical cooperation. The pieces had a similar beginning with Gonzalez’s piano motifs followed by the bass and drum’s individual parts. Hart’s drum solo again dominated a part of the piece with his charismatic drum skills. The piece ended with an ascending scale with a tremolo in a higher pitch for the finale.

Before beginning “Peresina,” the fourth piece, Gonzalez explained that it was his favorite piece to play. His performance spoke to why this piece was his favorite, as he demonstrated a diverse array of impressive jazz techniques.

Despite being someone who does not regularly listen to jazz music, I quickly realized that the rhythmic silences in the piece were a unique characteristic component of the genre. Rhythm is not as explicit in jazz as it is in classical or pop, but it seems to serve as a backbone in the pieces. I also noticed how certain melodies, or motifs, in jazz were constantly passed around the members of the trio. Jazz is akin to a special representation of musical creativity as it encourages variations on a single motif, which is often found in sonata form in classical music. 

“[Tyner] left a huge legacy and we want to try to keep it alive as much as we can,” Gonzalez said before playing the last piece. 

The last piece was titled “Passion Dance.” Like the name suggests, there is pure passion embodied by the music. The trio emphasized the rhythmic nature of the piece by articulating all their notes. “Passion Dance” sounded like a mixture of emotions with each artist playing as if they were individual pieces while ironically sounding symphonious. The piece ended with a tremolo of the right hand while the left hand ascended and descended repeatedly on the piano. Each artist played out in the end, increasing the rising tension for the audience. 

The host made an exciting announcement at closing: Keystone Korner Baltimore’s live opening will take place on April 8. Once more people are vaccinated, I would definitely recommend visiting Keystone Korner Baltimore for live jazz performances and some good tunes.

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