The Blue Monk - Friday, May 12, 2006
The Ben Darwish Trio
Ben Darwish, Keyboard
Drew Shoals, Drums
Zach Wallmark, Bass
The Ben Darwish Trio is a group of young, remarkably talented musicians who banded together just six months ago. They're a groove-oriented trio, whose influences are broad, from Jazz to Rock to Hip Hop. Drew Shoals is a recent graduate of Whitman College and has returned to Portland and is making his living as a professional drummer. Bassist Zach Wallmark received his undergraduate degree from NYU and is currently working on his Master's in Musicology at the U of O, while leader/keyboardist Ben Darwish is finishing his music degree, also at U of O.
This is an acoustic trio, but tonight Ben plays a Fender Rhodes. I was delighted to find out they compose, and most of what they play is original. They opened with Impressions of a Lurking Menace. Ben begins the groove, with Drew and Zach locking in, and it becomes a warm, very cool groove. Ben's fleet fingers create a shimmering sound, over funky bass and drum rhythms. Growler begins slowly, allowing space. Each player takes a turn with strong statements. Industrial Hero, a new tune, begins with Drew creating and repeating a series of sounds on his drums. Zach bows deep, singular notes, while Ben creates a dramatic mood on keys. In the end, Zach's rapid bowing provides a sense of urgency. On Birds Over Buoyancy Ben begins quietly. This is a light, pretty tune, moody, yet joyful. Perpetuity, composed by Zach, opens with a blues and saunters along nicely. Drew uses brushes and Ben plays a sweet melody. Marching Forth & Breaking Necks is super funky, while Tranquil Eyes is slow and contemplative. I especially liked Impressions of Ray (Charles). Ben and Drew have a fun exchange and Zach hits big, round notes. On Mind the Hair Ben plays a fast, intense, beautiful melody, with Zach adding pleasing notes, while Drew's rapid-fire drumming is on powerful display.
They interpret standards in refreshing ways, as well. Thelonious Monk's Well You Needn't is super slow and Zach shows off a big, bass sound. Hey Bulldog, a Beatles tune is deconstructed into deep funk, with a fantastic solo by Zach, while Drew and Ben provide tasteful support. Zach ends his solo with a bow and Drew, mallets. Ben continues and Drew and Zach wait, as if to see where he's going with it, and then join in at hyper-speed. Then they change gears creating a funny, funky beat, producing smiles in the audience. Armando's Rhumba by Chick Corea, is Latin infused and Ben was really cooking. They all were. Wow.
It felt to me as if they were telling stories, with their changing tempos and dynamics. Always pleasing and most of all, interesting. How very fortunate we are to have these young, gifted musicians keeping jazz alive. The trio will be playing in Portland again in August of `06 and are planning to make a CD.
The Blue Monk is a great listening venue, intimate and welcoming. 3341 SE Belmont St. Its downstairs club is non-smoking and there is usually a $5 or $6 cover charge. http://www.thebluemonk.com .
pj - Get out to hear live Jazz!
Photographs: Helen DeGroff