March 7–14, 2002
Last Sunday night, drummer Ari Hoenig sat toward the rear of New York’s legendary Village Vanguard, where the Bruce Barth Trio was finishing a weeklong run. Hoenig himself had just completed five weeks of European touring with another piano trio, led by Jean-Michel Pilc, and his ears were obviously still wide open. He listened actively, intently, occasionally responding to a well-turned phrase with a quiet murmur of assent. Moments into the second number, he grinned and whispered, "That’s I’m Old Fashioned’" — quickly identifying the Jerome Kern standard, even though Barth’s arrangement had rendered it unfamiliar and strange. Later in the set, the obnoxious patter of a nearby patron prompted Hoenig to twist around in his chair with an invitation to "shut the fuck up." (The offending party, Argentinean saxophone antihero Gato Barbieri, was soon ejected from the club.)
Need it be said that Hoenig takes listening seriously? Surely that’s one reason for his status as a first-call sideman — not only with Pilc, but also pianists Kenny Werner and James Hurt, guitarist Mike Stern, bassist Richard Bona, vocalist J.D. Walter and saxophonist Julien Lourau. It similarly governs his performances in the Jazz Mandolin Project and the on-again, off-again Jazzheads. In fact, if it weren’t for his expansive technique, propulsive time and deep musicality, the 28-year-old Mount Airy expatriate might cite his "ear" — jazzspeak for the ability to listen hard, and well — as the secret to his success.
The group Hoenig leads this week is a new quartet featuring Pilc, bassist Johannes Weidenmüller and saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart, frequent collaborators all. Asked to define their m.o. here, Hoenig muses: "I couldn’t imagine that we’re going to be doing a certain concept. We’re just going to let it develop, because that’s the natural way. It’s a very improvisational thing."
In other words, they’ll be listening close, like the rest of us. He adds: "Every band I’ve put together like that has been great."
Sat., March 9, 9 p.m.-1 a.m., call for cover, Chris’ Jazz Café, 1421 Sansom St., 215-568-3131.