REVIEW The sight, sound, and the experience of jazz at the Sharik Hasan’s New York Quartet concert was extraordinary

One of the rare delights of the Sharik Hasan New York Quartet’s concert at B Flat bar on July 5 was a genuine acoustic double bass. Add to this a tenor saxophone and a piano, though this one is really a digital keyboard, with drums thrown in, and you wouldn’t think it could get any closer to giving you the feel, within a small space, of what a conventional jazz band sounds like.

But in fact it got even closer: for two of the eleven pieces it played, the quartet was joined by Yuichiro Tokuda on alto saxophone, who, regular readers might remember, played with his Japanese quintet at the same venue on May 10. Hasan’s colleagues in the quartet are like him graduate students of the Manhattan School of Music: Adam Larson on tenor sax, Raviv Markowitz on bass, and Philippe Lemm on drums.

The eleven selections played were either jazz standards or original Hasan compositions. Most were in fast or medium-fast tempos, although one was a slow, evocative piece. Hasan’s “Hymn” is dedicated to Stanley Pinto, a leading activist-supporter of jazz who was present in the audience.

The concert opened with Hasan’s brisk “Odyssey”, a number that clearly set the pattern for the rest of the concert, featuring solos by Larson, Hasan, and Markowitz, followed by a return to the theme and another solo by Larson before a final reprise of the theme. Next in line was a famous composition of Thelonious Monk, “I Mean You”, taken at a faster pace than I remember Monk ever played it at. Hasan and Larson took solo spots and were followed by exchanges between Lemm and any one of the other three in turn.

“Red’s Dilemma”, another brisk piece composed by Hasan, started with Lemm playing a solo intro into which Hasan and Markowitz entered before Larson’s tenor sax came in for the theme. Hasan and Larson took solos next, the latter in double-time, before Lemm played a brief improvisation and the theme was reprised.

Tokuda joined the quartet on the next piece, unnamed, to lead on the theme and work his way into a solo improvisation. Larson, Hasan, and Lemm followed with solos of their own before Tokuda reprised the theme. The next piece, also unnamed, opened with a solo bass intro into which Lemm introduced hand-claps. Hasan, Markowitz and Lemm then continued the intro before Larson joined in to render the theme and develop it into an improvisation. A solo by Hasan followed before Larson reprised the theme.

After a brief intermission, the concert continued with an interesting arrangement of George and Ira Gershwin’s “Summertime”. A repeated phrase or riff on tenor sax started the proceedings, faster than most renditions of this famous standard, after which Larson rendered the theme as he did on most of the pieces. Solos by Hasan and Markowitz followed before Larson again ended the piece as he’d started it, with riff and theme.

“Hymn” opened with a longish solo bass intro, quite haunting. Lemm’s drums were muted on this piece, felt-headed sticks of the kind used basically on the bass drum being much in evidence. Solos on tenor sax and piano developed the rendition before the theme returned.

The next piece, again unnamed, featured a blistering tenor sax passage on the theme after a solo piano intro. Solo improvisations from piano, bass and tenor sax followed in what might have been the best among several excellent pieces in the concert. Tokuda next returned for a rendition of John Coltrane’s Mr. PC, marked by a two-sax lead on the theme with solos in turn from Tokuda, Markowitz, Hasan and Lemm leading up to the theme reprised.

On Hasan’s “Ascension”, the theme was preceded by a drum solo and followed by exchanges between Larson and Hasan. Finally, on the fast-paced unnamed number played as an encore, Hasan chose to set his keyboard to the sound of an electric piano. Larson went off into a solo followed by turns for Hasan and Lemm.

This was a most satisfying exposition of modern mainstream jazz from four musicians studying and working in the Mecca of jazz. It was worth it just for the sight and sound of the double bass, not to mention the saxophone – occasionally two saxophones – and Hasan’s piano virtuosity. With the quiet and subtle drumming of Lemm, could one have asked for more?