Acme Jazz Garage | Timpano Italian Chophouse 02.05.15

Seemingly forever, Bryan Lewis has been trying to get me to check out Acme Jazz Garage at Timpano in Hyde Park (Tampa). I’m a Serotonic regular, and I really wanted to hear Bryan in a straight-ahead jazz setting.

Whatever expectations I had, this exceeded them by a light-year or two. The evening started out as a hunt for my favorite beer, Terrapin Liquid Bliss Chocolate Peanut Butter Porter (imagine drinking a Reese’s PB cup). Why it didn’t occur to me to try Total Wine before I don’t know. When I got there they had ten cases! They only have eight now!

Then I headed down to Timpano Italian Chophouse to see and hear Acme Jazz Garage. I like their description of the Starlight Lounge: “Fantastic cocktails, succulent bites and upbeat music reminiscent of a Chicago Supper Club from some of the best talent in the area.” I had a beer or so, the food was succulent, and the last part is 100% accurate. This was jazz quartet music as good as you could hear anywhere. Anywhere.

It was a delightful night, too short due to my late arrival. I’ll be back again, on time.

When I arrived, the band had just worked their way into Miles’ “All Blues.” It was a beautiful reading, honoring the tradition of jazz bands to give every player a moment or three. Matt Swenson led off on guitar. His hollow-body electric has that magnificent sound, reminding me first of Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery as well. Swenson borrows from the best, but this set and the next showed great inventiveness.

Lewis had a nice walk on the baby grand piano. In the past, I’ve always seen him on his bank of keyboards playing with Serotonic. It was deluxe seeming him make the wonderful percussiveness of the piano speak the tune. A guest player (Andrew) was sitting in for a couple of songs on bass, and he was excellent. He claimed later to be rusty, but I enjoyed his work for certain.

And then fill-in drummer Pat Close (regular band member Tim Diehl was out) had his moment. Everybody has opinions about drum solos, given their tendency to become tedious and redundant in short order. Close had a superb night for both sets that I heard, but my thought about this solo shot (and one later with the bass) was: Close gets it. He kept his solo brief, inventive, imaginative and humorous. That’s a grand slam in my book. Well played, sir, well played.

After “All Blues,” they headed for “Autumn Leaves.” That is one of my most favorite songs. The Swinging Johnsons used to play a wicked version of that tune (Daniel Chilly Harris and T-Bone Hamilton are still around and sounding great, by the way). This version was a match. It just swung like crazy. My ear-to-ear grin must have been evident.

0205152230Andrew thanked the band for letting him sit in (thanks went both directions), and Philip Booth took his normal place. Booth and I go way back, but I’m not sure I ever heard him play (except for his ’97 CD When Our Time Comes under the project name Greenwich Blue with LaRue Nichelson). He is a truly top-rate jazz writer whose by-line has graced all of the major national publications and many local ones as well.

He plays as well as he writes, for my money.

Lewis led the band on a brief detour and then into “Moanin’.” Funny thing about that song. If you are, perchance, a Lambert, Hendricks and Ross fan, or maybe a Man Tran fan, or even a Rare Silk fan, when you hear a song that after the original recording has sprouted lyrics that you know, you can’t help but sing them. So there I was, like a fool, pretending to be Jon Hendricks (plus Annie and Dave on the choruses). Fortunately, only the band could see me (I think!).

I couldn’t identify the last song, which Booth easily explained: it was one of his originals called “Last Call.” It was a great tune, and Swenson had a blast with it. Theoretically, it could appear on the CD the band has been working on at the Springs. It will come out when it’s right, they claim. Just soon, I hope!

Playing in restaurants cannot be an easy gig. Some patrons are just not tuned into the music; it’s not why they have come to the venue; they are there to meet and greet and have fun. There was nice response to the music this night on a relatively calm Thursday (with the neighborhoods still recovering from that recent pirate invasion and all).

AJG started the second set with an upbeat version of “The Look of Love,” the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic. Best version I’ve ever heard. Next up was a very spirited take on Monk’s “Well, You Needn’t.” Close was again showcased to great advantage, and everyone took a great turn. Booth’s playing is wonderfully understated, and he brings so much life to each song.

Then Lewis began a pensive piano intro I could not quite place, and slowly the Willie Wonka movie tune “Pure Imagination” emerged. (We were speculating after the set about the authors of the tune, and I think Booth mentioned Anthony Newley. Correct, along with his songwriting partner Leslie Bricusse.) This is the best way for me to demonstrate the superb quality of this quartet: taking material from movies and pop tunes and making them as jazzy and relevant as the great standards. And it is a brilliant move, because you do want to engage the patrons. Most patrons – shocker alert – are not music geeks like I am.

Let’s see: stocked up with beer, ready to see Acme Jazz Garage again, on time!

Great to see Michelle and Michael. Great to meet Jesse and my server at Timpano!


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