On May 4, when Billy Childs and his stellar touring quartet took over the snug 1905 jazz club in NoPo’s Mississippi neighborhood for two back-to-back shows, nothing was missing–except CDs for sale. Childs’ most recent and perhaps most evocative album, Winds of Change, produced by Mack Records and released in late March, was sold out according to the band, so CD-seekers were out of luck.
Not a big deal: the live music, written by Childs, who’s known as much for his rich, harmonic piano-playing as he is for his original compositional voice, made up many times over for the lack of CDs. The 65-minute early set included four of Childs’ songs played by his traveling all-star quartet — not the same musicians on the CD (trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, a headliner at this year’s PDX Jazz Festival; drummer Brian Blade; and bassist Scott Colley).
But certainly May 4’s towering trumpeter Sean Jones who hit stratospheric notes throughout, uber-talented Austrian-born bassist Hans Glawischnig, and ever-smiling energy-bunny drummer Christian Euman were up to the task of interpreting Child’s lush, complicated, longform compositions, as well as executing them in a straight-ahead fashion. Forget hip-hop. This was post-bop at its best without stalling in old-school cliches.
First up was the “Great Western Loop,” a meandering high-energy tune inspired by the 7,000-mile hiking trail that inches up from the bottom of California to Vancouver, B.C., with twists and turns into other trails. Childs, 66, said he prefers to be creatively moved by the trail rather than to hike it. “I doubt I’ll do that,” he said. It was clear with this tune, the show’s exciting opener, that Childs found “a beautiful combination of bandmates with complementary, warm ensemble-playing and inspired and refined solos,” said Portland pianist Randy Porter. He sat among other Portland jazz royalty including Portland State University music professor and composer Darrell Grant and Dan Davey, leader of the early-May recently resuscitated Mount Hood Jazz Festival. There were probably others among the appreciative fans who filled the sold-out 50-seat 1905, which Child referred to as “cool–a real jazz club.”
The group played two other lengthy pieces from the newest CD, including the title tune, “Winds of Change,” inspired by the mid-’70s films Chinatown and Taxi Driver. Childs is a lifelong Los Angeles resident and draws many of his musical inspirations from the movie world. He later reflected on his childhood with “End of Innocence,” a tune motivated in part by Herbie Hancock’s Speak Like a Child. Bassist Glawischnig closed his eyes for more than a few moments as his fellow musicians pushed ahead on the tune. He wasn’t dozing, he was preparing for a long lyrical solo. Childs has the grace and generosity to allow his bandmates to play out their improvisational hearts, and there was much of that solo exchange at the 1905.
The show’s first three pieces came from the Winds of Change. A number of its predecessors have won 16 Grammy nominations and five Grammys, and Childs is versatile: He also plays and arranges classical music. But the night’s fourth and final selection, “Dance of Shiva,” veered off in a different direction from the first three cerebral tunes. Off the 2018 Grammy award-winner Rebirth, “Dance of Shiva” delivered an unexpected fast-moving exotic vibe. The group performed the song introduced by a long Childs’ piano solo “that can’t go eight bars without metamorphosing. But it also has a commanding bass hook and thrilling harmonic tension-and-release,” according to an Allmusic review. Childs started to explain the song’s intricate rhythms, and then gave up, saying he didn’t want to “nerd out.”
And who was counting anyway? The piece was an exclamation point to a polished show.