If I'm being an honest Puck, I'm completely out of my element when it comes to reviewing Jazz. All but the very good just ends up sounding like math to me. The best of it has at points moved me deeply -- Miles, Byrd, Mingus, Coltrane, Sun Ra, etc. I feel something when I hear those guys. But for the most part I can't tell the differences at the levels below godlike achievement.
I can tell when it's smaItz -- I never cared for Kenny G, for example. I can tell when something just sounds bad. But if you're a mildly talented Jazz musician who plays with some feeling, I can't really tell just how good you are. That's a failing of education on my part, and not a deficiency in the music. I just haven't spent the time developing a palette for anything beyond the genius level of the form. I had a cat pass me his CD maybe six months ago, ostensibly for review, and while I listened to it many times and felt that it was enjoyable? I just didn't have anything interesting to say about it. That was Jimmy Masters, if you're wondering. And if Jimmy is reading this, cursing my name for having never writen about his record -- the fault is entirely with me, man. I'm just too damn ignorant to properly review this music.
Which brings us to the now. I've been coming into Stella's on Colonial Ave Thursday nights more often than not for years, hearing the many, many variations of the Woody Beckner Trio. Woody's a bit of a legend as a player in the area with appearances with the Virginia Arts Festival, the Town Point Jazz Festival, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra Jazz Ensemble and more. If I recall correctly, he's an enormously popular guitar instructor over at ODU as well. I caught the last half of last night's set, snapped a few shots and sat down to really pay attention to what I'm hearing. This particular evening he has Steve Stelmaszek, on tenor sax with Chris Brydge on double bass. To be real, I don't even really fucking know what a double bass is? So how am I supposed to evaluate this?
Here's the thing. I can't tell you why Beckner's compositions are impressive. I can't argue as to his particular level of virtuosity versus other players. I can't tell you that his sidefolk are worse or better than others in those spots on different nights. What I **can** say is this: Week after week, month after month, year after year: I've never once heard something come from the corner of that room and thought to myself -- Jesus, that sounds off. I've not once muttered that the tempo was wrong. That someone missed a note. I've never once heard the Woody Beckner Trio and felt like they were anything other than extremely competent musicians playing very difficult music and making it sound good.
That's an accomplishment. That's worth respect. And that's a indication of musicians who are more than just okay: That's a mark of something great.
So regardless of where Woody and his companions stand in relation to the great pantheon of Jazz in the sky? It's probably well worth your time to stop in one Thursday and give a listen.
Just, you know.. Be decent and bring a couple of bucks for the tip jar.