Friday, November 4, 2011

Peter Erskine Trio at Jimmy Mak's in Portland

The Great Peter Erskine
Just came from the Peter Erskine Trio concert at Jimmy Mak's. I wanted to stay for the second set, but my wife Kerry and I are exhausted due to the fact that our son Liam figured out how to get out of his crib; therefore, he gets up at 4 or 5 in the morning and comes in our room to try out some of his new words, like "bicycle." That aside, the first set was really world class. Erskine is a legend and has had a wonderful career as a leader and as a sideman. I first heard him with Maynard Ferguson and Weather Report, and then enjoyed his trio with pianist John Taylor and bassist Palle Danielsson. Tonight was my first time seeing him live, and it was very educational, as well as enjoyable.

Damian Erskine
The trio included Erskine's nephew Damian Erskine on electric bass and Armenian-born Vardan Ovsepian on piano. Erskine is teaching adjunct at PSU, so he has a major influence on the many electric bassists whom I come into contact with around the school. Erskine has blazing fast technique on his 6 string bass, but it never sounds awkward; indeed, his solos are rather lyrical and smooth. His timekeeping is solid, also, and he and his uncle Peter had a great connection. I would imagine that Erskine would be pretty easy to play with; for some reason, I never realized just how consistent Peter Erskine's time is. Many jazz drummers are very loosey-goosey with the time, and favor feeling over precision. I was impressed with Erskine's ability to make it "feel" good and metronomic simultaneously throughout the concert.

Pianist Ovsepian also impressed me. His solo on the first tune of the night, "Every Tomorrow" showed his classical piano pedigree; he has a lot of facility, a beautiful warm touch, and a lot of inventiveness.
Vardan Ovsepian
Later in the show, they performed a re-harmonization of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "I've Never Been In Love Before", which gave a very moody treatment to a song which I am accustomed to hearing in a much more lighthearted way. Ovsepian was featured  a great deal during the the set, but he never showed off or tried to upstage the two Erskines that he shared the stage with. He seems like a real team player.

Erskine is incredibly tasteful, which is probably why he's had such a great career. Sometimes, I was hoping for a little more aggressiveness from the drums, but the more I listened, the more Erskine's drumming aesthetic made sense with the compositions. But Erskine played solos on almost every tune, except that his solos were extremely well crafted, as well as showing a great deal of dynamic control and technical agility. I started to wonder if I would ever get a chance to play with Erskine(maybe I'll have to bug Damian to put a trio session together, ha ha).

The music was mostly from the trio's new recording entitled "Joy Luck" and it is available on Itunes and Amazon. It's a great disc and a great band; hopefully, they'll be in your town soon. I was sort of wishing that more of the PSU drummers had attended the concert, because they would have learned a
lot about musical drumming. (This just in: I was told by a Canadian friend of mine that Neil Peart, the God of Canadian Rock Drumming was taking lessons from Erskine a few years back. You can read a little about what Peart had to say about that HERE on Peart's blog. He even talks about his love of Jack DeJohnette, which I can definitely relate to.....)


  1. I'm honored George (& hope to play with you someday! maybe with Peter sometime, if the opportunity presents itself? ;)

    Glad you enjoyed it!

  2. I saw Erskine with Abercrombie and Marc Johnson back around 1988 or so in San Francisco. A fab player at a fab show!

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