THE VINYL ANACHRONIST
Five Play Live from the Firehouse Stage
by Marc Phillips
When you first see the cover to Five Play Live from the Firehouse Stage, and you see the photo of five women holding their musical instruments, it’s easy to get caught up in the all-girl band excitement and not just judge the music on its own merits. I’ve mentioned this before, probably while discussing the excellent releases from the Diva Orchestra over the last couple of years, but I’m torn between the feeling that we should treat women jazz musicians as something other than novelties, and the feeling that we should keep celebrating this sort of egalitarian support and encouragement. Jazz music, after all, is known for having rich contributions from both genders all through its history.
I’m sure there are stories. Bad ones. That’s a given.
And still there’s this feeling that we need to mention that Five Play, which is actually a “sister” group to the Diva Orchestra, is made up of women. I can almost envision the cock-eyed forum discussions about whether male and female musicians in jazz approach their instruments with any audible differences, or something asinine about women gravitating toward tenor horns because baritones need that extra dollop of manly elbow grease to coax out the notes with the right authority. Please, let’s not. Instead, let’s talk about Five Play and how hard they swing in this album. I’m talking about major swing, the kind that starts kicking at your heels and telling you to stay with the beat or exit through the gift shop. (Was thinking of Banksy earlier today, sorry.)
This project was inspired by the Diva Jazz Orchestra’s 25th Anniversary Project, which I reviewed here. While Five Play refers to the Diva Orchestra as “the mothership,” I feel like the quintet is operating on an almost independent vision, one where the playing is confident and there’s more of a platform for improvisation. The majority of tunes here are originals by one of the members–drummer and leader Sherrie Maricle, pianist Tomoko Ohno and bassist Noriko Ueda all take on an almost equal amount of the writing. The quintet is then fleshed out by the horn section, trumpet and flugelhorn player Jami Dauber and sax and clarinet player Janelle Reichman (who contributes just one song, “Circles”), and someone winds up stepping on the gas, and the energy levels rise and, best of all, the entire set was recorded live with an enthusiastic and grateful audience.
There’s also a hidden meaning behind it all, a little personal touch that makes it even better. The Firehouse Stage isn’t some New York City hot spot where the top jazz performers play every Friday night, but a small venue in Johnson City, New York, near the Pennsylvania border. Maricle grew up near there, not far from where I’m writing this, and she explains that “From the moment it opened, I have been a fan of this extraordinary performance space.” It is a nice -sounding venue, warm and comfortable and not too intimate. She made the right choice about the venue, and fortunately her quintet was inspired while they stood on its stage.