Pianist Jacky Terrasson is supposed to lead jazz into the 21st century--a task only slightly less daunting than trying to colonize the moon. Futurists may have been disappointed, then, in his performance Friday at La Maison Francaise, in which he relied heavily on old-school grooves rather than future-school epiphanies. Everyone else just nodded to the big beats.
Longtime bassist Ugonna Okegwo, drummer Gerald Cleaver, saxophonist and flutist Jay Collins and harmonica player Gregoire Maret joined the normally trio-bound Terrasson for the French Embassy's second presentation in its new jazz series. Last month when Andrew White's saxophone concert opened the series, high ceilings made for a difficult mix. This time a different sound system provided better amplification--from Collins's assortment of wooden flutes to Terrasson's sensuous Fender Rhodes electric piano, the instruments were clearly heard despite some echo.
A few too many of Terrasson's 11 songs (over two sets) took on a soft-rock and contemporary jazz feel, with Maret's harmonica giving the funkier tunes a Stevie Wonder-like vibe. But Terrasson's take on Ravel's "Bolero," with its familiar melody warped into a Middle Eastern and African-influenced arrangement of drone and groove, and Herbie Hancock's fusion classic "Chameleon," where the ultra-funky bass line was treated more like a melody, were brilliant in their recasting.