This section features selected live sound from our performances around town that I capture with my Zoom microphone.
April 16th, 2018 – “Improv 2” – with Blaise Siwula, Leco Reis, and Jon Panikkar
In Jon’s living room, with the mic on 360 right on the floor beautifully and naturally capturing Leco’s unamplified bass.
June 5th, 2016 – “Anger Management”
This was a great version of Mark Broschinsky’s classic composition, now a staple of the Shrine Big Band for the past six years. Starting with a baritone sax solo by Mercedes Beckman, moving into to a double trombone solo by the composer and Matt McDonald (with many improvised shouts and riffs from the band and the trumpet section along the way), and ending with a triple solo of the trumpets – Mike Gorham, Danny Gouker, and Chris Scanlon – accompanied by Justin Rothberg on guitar, this one swings and cooks the whole way. Enjoy!
March 6th, 2016 – “African Flower”
The Shrine Big Band is 15 pieces, and so for us to do a version of Duke Ellington’s classic trio piece from the Money Jungle album with Max Roach and Charles Mingus, I needed to take on a quite a challenge – arrange the pre-eminent bandleader’s own composition for big band (apparently Duke never got around to doing it himself). It took a long time to get those 40 bars orchestrated for all of us, but that’s music for you. Featuring solos by tenor saxophone Jeremy Powell, trombone Matt McDonald, and me on piano.
March 6th, 2016 – “Warm Valley”
The LMQ has expanded to the LMS (see below for explanation of LMQ), and we closed out our set at The Shrine with this 1946 Duke Ellington composition. With Matt McDonald – trombone, Justin Wood – tenor sax, Andrew Hadro – baritone sax, Jon Panikkar – drums, Leco Reis – bass, and me on piano.
December 6th, 2015 – “Bemsha Swing”
Whenever I get a last minute quintet together for a small group at Silvana or The Shrine, we dub it the LMQ. This night, as we played the 8:00 set before the Shrine Big Band took the stage, the LMQ had an especially fine lineup: me on piano, Jon Panikkar – drums, Motoki Mihara – bass, Justin Wood – tenor sax, and Andrew Hadro – baritone sax. Here is our version of the Thelonious Monk classic.
November 15th, 2015 – “All The Things You Are”
The Eric Plaks Quintet was at ABC No Rio for our Lower East Side CD Release gig, with an opportunity to participate in C.O.M.A., hosted by Blaise Siwula, an unbroken series of free jazz performances taking place every Sunday for 17 years. The tune and the concept are tenor saxophonist Rodney Chapman’s. Rodney, aka Godfather Don, has carried a theme in his music for many years of attempting to meld the lyricism of the harmonic tradition – even a standard-of-standards such as All The Things – with the freedom and adventure of the avant-garde. This version is my favorite to date of our many attempts to realize Don’s vision. It features outstanding work by the other tenor saxophonist in the quintet, Alan Davis, and great interplay between the two saxes, accompanied by the rhythm section of me, Leco Reis – bass, and Jon Panikkar – drums.
November 1st, 2015 – “Madison Square Garden” – The Shrine Big Band Version
I think it’s interesting to listen to all the changes that naturally occur when you try to take an improvisation and write it down…and then re-inject an improvisational quality back into it. Listen first to the August 22nd recording just below, and then listen to this month’s Shrine Big Band version. Remember, on August 22nd, that was just spontaneous improvisation by three musicians. On November 1st, it was 14 musicians reading a 2-page chart, with a conductor (James Rogers), and the rhythm section of me, Jon Panikkar – drums, and John Murchison – bass, improvising freely throughout. By the way, the conductor was also able to ad-lib which sections of the piece he chose to cue, and in which order.
September 20th, 2015 – Duo with Aquiles Navarro
It was a special night at ABC No Rio, with a nice group of friends and musicians (some people qualifying as both) in attendance. Aquiles and I had discussed in rehearsal the idea of “skipping the warm-up” in our improvs for this performance and getting right into the heart of the matter. Do you think we were successful? This was the first improv of the set.
August 22nd, 2015 – “Madison Square Garden” (Improv) – Aquiles Navarro Trio
Because it just rocked like a concert at Madison Square Garden! This is a 5-minute excerpt from the 2nd set of our gig at Tomi Jazz, my 2nd time performing with the supremely gifted duo of Aquiles Navarro – trumpet and Tcheser Holmes – drums.
July 8th, 2015 – Improvised Trio (partial) (Plaks/Navarro/Panikkar)
I was so sad to realize that the Zoom cut out after only 8 minutes of what was actually a 40 minute improvised trio – but the consolation prize is a file that is small enough to fit in this section, and also gives a nice indication of how we sound when we are just letting it go…This features a new member of our gang, Aquiles Navarro, along with Old Graybeard Jon Panikkar on drums. Aquiles has been playing with us a lot lately (especially in these last few months), and brings a passionate style of creative improvisation that is absolutely compelling to connoisseur and casual fans alike – he is proof that not all avant-jazz has to be an “acquired taste”. Aquiles’ sound and ideas are immediately clear and enjoyable from the outset, while his seemingly inexhaustible array of extended techniques on trumpet fascinate and mesmerize. Although he only graduated from New England Conservatory a few years ago, Aquiles has brought a level of maturity and adventure to the New York music scene that ensure that he will be a major player in jazz for years to come.
June 28th, 2015 – Improvised Duet with Blaise Siwula (#2)
It is such a treat to play duet with saxophonist/clarinetist Blaise Siwula, as in this second improvisation that we created at ABC No Rio. Possessed of a very unique tone that immediately attracts your attention, Blaise plays in a multi-directional way that makes improvising along with him an easy job, like walking on the people-mover in the airport. Take a listen – maybe you, too, will feel like you are stepping on and doubling your speed!
June 17th, 2015 – “42nd Street”
All I can say is wow after this tour de force by The Godfather Don on tenor sax (aka Rodney Chapman), from our Uptown CD Release gig at The Shrine. You’ll hear Don start things off, and then a great solo turn by Alan Davis, also on tenor sax as well, before me and bassist Leco Reis lay out and let The Godfather and drummer Jon Panikkar do their thing.
June 7th, 2015 – “Bad Seed”
Normally a jazz composition serves as the basis for further improvisation, but the process can work in reverse too. It is well known that many famous passages in classical music were originally the result of spontaneous improvisations (by Mozart, Bach, or Chopin to name a few), which were later set down in writing. So too with “Bad Seed” – I sat at the piano and let it roll for a 3-minute spontaneous free-form improvisation, and then over many days worked with the recording to notate it and arrange it for big band. What do you think of the resulting piece?
May 20th, 2015 – “Loni’s Tune” and “Still Riding That Train”
This was definitely an exciting gig! Our CD release for the album Some Ones at Cornelia Street Cafe, and the Quintet brung it! Here is the final 12 or so minutes of our continuous set, featuring the final two compositions, “Loni’s Tune” and “Still Riding That Train,” which I wrote specially for this gig, which reunites the band from the CD for the first time in five years! Check out Leco Reis’ amazing bow and pizz work on bass, Jon Panikkar’s swinging drums, the molten lava pouring from the horns of Alan Davis and Rodney “Godfather Don” Chapman, and me on the not-bad baby grand piano they have at Cornelia.
May 3rd, 2015 – “Theme 3”
The Big Band plays “Theme 3,” a fascinating (and, until we learned it, slightly maddening) composition by longtime band stalwart, tenor scream-ist extraordinaire, Alan Davis. Try getting that rhythm on your own – at first, it defies memorization. The first solo is by James Rogers, showing off his well-rounded bass trombone. Then Tim Leopold cuts in like a trumpet buzzsaw slicing through sheetrock. Finally, Davis, the tune’s composer, showcases his extensive array of extended techniques on tenor, as he engages in a profound sermon of sound. That’s “Theme 3”!
April 5th, 2015 – “Pandemonium”
The Big Band plays my composition “Pandemonium”, arranged by James Rogers, who wears so many different hats in our band (and has a few cool lids he sports in performance as well). The first solo is a smooth romp by Austin Becker on alto sax, and the second solo over challenging terrain is handled with aplomb by trumpeter Kathleen Doran.
March 3rd, 2015 – “You’re a Weaver of Dreams”
Here is an example of my solo piano playing, trying to keep things in the tradition! Live at The Shrine, with the helpful support of the regulars at the bar. The tune is the standard “You’re a Weaver of Dreams”.
January 28th, 2015 – “Golden Lady”
John Murchison (bass) brought this arrangement of Sun Ra’s sinuous melody “Golden Lady” to a quartet date with me, Matt McDonald (bone) and Justin Wood (flute on this one). I love the evocative melody, plus, check out the amazing bone and flute solos which continue the out-of-this-world atmosphere.
January 4th, 2015 – “Stuffy Turkey” and “Love Thy Neighbor”
Here is an awesome version of “Stuffy Turkey” (James Rogers’ arrangement), featuring great plunger trumpet work by Mike Gorham, and killing solos by Nick Grinder on trombone and Danny Gouker on trumpet. Then we introduce the band, and end with our perennial set-closer, “Love Thy Neighbor.