The Harker Concert Series brought back one of its heavy hitters on Jan. 28, and for good reason. Playing to a sold-out audience, the Taylor Eigsti Trio proved again why they deserve to be a big draw in the modern jazz landscape.
This band is comfortable. Bassist Harish Raghavan and drummer Eric Harland were still twisting knobs and turning pages as Eigsti began setting the mood for the show opener, “Speaking Song,” with deep chords and flitting notes. Soon the song had begun in earnest as Raghavan and Harland settled into an infectious, unassuming groove while Eigsti’s plaintive melodies rose to the fore, punctuated by his famous improvisations, eliciting vocal approval from Harland. Comfortable.
Eigsti shifted gears to give his bandmates room to shine, as Raghavan drifted into an airy bass solo, with effective note choice, catching fire as Harland picked up steam for an effortlessly musical drum solo.
Dave Brubeck is often mentioned in the same breath as Eigsti, the jazz legend having been a mentor to the young, promising pianist. Eigsti’s taste for texture served him well in the opening of Brubeck’s “Strange Meadlowlark,” sprinkling scale runs atop a layer of chords before casually strolling into a more subdued version of Brubeck’s often-overlooked 4/4 swing. Despite the slower pace, Eigsti nevertheless made commendable use of the many opportunities to execute his trademark stylistic flourishes. Proving that his imagination extends beyond the keyboard, he put an exclamation point at the end with a mild slam of the key cover.
Following “Meadowlark” and the afternoon-walk-after-heavy-rainfall quality of the trio’s version of Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time,” the Eigsti original “Play With Me” felt like a splash of ice cold water. Eigsti’s solo intro had him traversing the length of the keyboard with playful flurries, not unlike a rambunctious child chasing a butterfly around the front lawn. A few hits on the hi-hat by Harland signaled that it was go time, propelling the song into its decidedly danceable tempo. A stunning Eric Harland drum solo brought the song to its emotional apex before winding down for the intermission.
During the intermission, attendees commented on the concert and the accompanying spread in the Nichols Hall atrium.
“We’ve had a great time because we arrived in time for some wine and hors d’oeuvres and then we went into the auditorium, which is lovely,” said Anna Ranieri. “We’re really enjoying the program, the wonderful ensemble, and I had seen Taylor Eigsti play when he was a really young kid so it’s fun to see how he’s grown up when he’s playing with other people.”
“I think it’s an excellent venue,” said Judy Busch, who had seen Eigsti’s previous Harker Concert Series performances. “It’s just small enough to be intimate and yet the sound and everything is exceptional.”
Eigsti kept the between-song banter to a minimum in the second set, kicking things off with a pair of standards, one of which transitioned from a marvelous Raghavan bass solo to an irresistible groove, heralded by Harland’s rattling snare.
For the final two pieces, Eigsti invited his longtime friend Dave Hart, Harker middle school music teacher, to sit in on trumpet. Performing as a duet on “Body and Soul,” Eigsti and Hart beautifully captured the hope and heartache of the jazz classic, with Hart showing that his neither his improvisational chops nor his interplay with Eigsti have waned since the two began pursuing different careers.
The band got back together for the closing number, a rendition of “Caravan” that riffed on Duke Ellington’s standard with time changes, wild syncopation and rhythms slightly reminiscent of Latin jazz. After a dazzling intro from Eigsti, they careened into the mix as Hart more than capably took the lead, showing no sign of being overwhelmed by the act he had to follow. Meanwhile, Eigsti continue to show his gift for finding beauty in nearly any sound, flirting with atonality and what others might even call noise.
As the end approached, Harland was due. Taking the cue from Eigsti, the Grammy-nominated drummer launched into the final solo of the evening, which included an extended drumroll that showcased Harland’s astonishing endurance and control.