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Ben Rosenblum Trio Impresses at Rudy’s

It was a cold February evening in Nashville, Tennessee yet from down the block you could hear the burning fast up-tempo swing of a piano trio emanating from the confines of Rudy’s Jazz Room. Strolling into Rudy’s warrants a friendly greeting from Adam, the owner, and a packed house puts this reviewer tucked in the back corner of Nashville’s premier jazz club. The musicians on stage are cooking at well over 300 bpm as they close out their second set. The crowd is in it. As they pause for a quick break, we learn that we are listening to the Ben Rosenblum Trio, on tour from New York City. Marty Jaffe is on upright bass, Ben Zweig on drums.

Ben Rosenblum; press photo from artist website

After a quick break, the trio launches into a swinging arrangement of Randy Weston’s “Saucer Eyes” that harkens back to the great piano trios such as Oscar Peterson. Rosenblum commands the Steinway grand piano as he navigates between improvised single note lines and big band style block chords. Zweig, a young drummer in age, plays with maturity and a deep understanding of the jazz tradition, artfully setting up hits and lifting the trio to a sound that feels much larger than only three musicians. After the piano solo, Zweig switches to brushes on the drums and creates a quiet cushion of sound upon which bassist Jaffe is allowed to stretch out. A well-constructed bass solo, Jaffe makes some clear references to his influences such as the great Ray Brown, yet also lets his own voice shine in his command of the upper register of the bass. The group then showcases Zweig on drums, who chooses to remain on brushes for his feature. A somewhat elusive art, Zweig is very dynamic in his usage of the brushes on the drumkit and he brings the audience in close before switching back to sticks for a slamming finish of the piece. The crowd responds enthusiastically between bites of beignets from Rudy’s New Orleans style menu.

Before the next number, Rosenblum switches to accordion and instructs the crowd to whistle along as he plays a haunting melody that will be the theme. The trio then begins the Brazilian inspired piece at a slow swaying tempo that has a sensual, romantic flare to it. Zweig starts the piece on the tambourine-like pandeiro before gradually incorporating more elements of the drumkit. Rosenblum’s accordion melody soars over the simple bass groove and casts the audience under its spell. Just as we were all settling into the dark mood of the piece, the B section provides reprieve as it bounces along with a cheerful major theme. This contrast of minor and major sections continues throughout the piece. Rosenblum takes a simpler, melodic approach to his improvisation on this piece, often whistling the main theme along with the audience.

For the third selection of the final set, the trio dips into the great American songbook with Victor Young’s “Delilah”. Rosenblum, back at the piano, puts his own spin on the song by starting with a groovy bassline in his left hand that he uses as a platform to showcase his more modern jazz piano influences. Flashes of McCoy Tyner and Keith Jarrett show up yet never feel forced and give an ominous mode to the piece. Jaffe is the first to improvise and he builds on the ominous mood of the introduction of the piece. Lots of space between his very melodic lines on bass bring the audience in close. As Rosenblum takes command again the band launches into a swing feel with walking bassline. Zweig’s high-hat cymbal propels the band forward. Rosenblum again builds toward a big band style shout chorus that allows Zweig to really shine through the texture of the group. The group then winds the piece down, ending with the same bassline with which it began.

Ben Rosenblum Trio with Marty Jaffe (bass) and Ben Zweig (drums)

For the final piece of the evening, Rosenblum introduces an original composition entitled “Azúcar”. The trio begins by setting up a wash of sound in a minor tonality. The tempo builds into what will become an up-tempo Latin jazz feel. Although somewhat disjointed sounding, it seems the effect is intentional. Zweig is very active on the drums utilizing the various timbres that he has in his arsenal. Rosenblum shines in his improvisation as he sings along with each flourish of notes bursting forth from the piano. Again nodding to his knowledge of the jazz piano tradition, Rosenblum finishes his solo in “locked hands”, playing the same lines in both hands at the same time. The finale of “Azúcar” is highlighted by a drum solo over a vamp that Jaffe and Rosenblum play in unison. Zweig is extremely dynamic in his improvisation and the audience members are collectively bobbing their heads before the band finishes their set.

The trio received a warm reception from the packed crowd of Rudy’s. The members were all smiles as they left the stage. Overall, it was a stellar performance and quite clear that Jaffe, Zweig and Rosenblum have been working together as a trio for some time now. The trio possessed the elusive innate sense of connection that an ensemble develops only after playing together for quite a while. This was great to see in contrast to a group of hired musicians who sound great individually yet have not yet gelled as an ensemble. Rosenblum’s trio was very much a single musical unit comprised of three distinct musical personalities. It was a welcomed opportunity to see a working jazz trio from New York as they brought their hard driving, modern, yet steeped in tradition sound to Nashville, Tennessee. I am hopeful Rudy’s Jazz Room welcomes Rosenblum back again and continues to bring in such great talent moving forward.


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