Tuesday May 8, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- This city embraced its creators of painting, sculpture, photography, film and other visual expression Friday evening at its first ever Arts Walk, but it also acknowledged its reputation as a center of jazz performance.

Hundreds of curious viewers munched hors d'oeuvres while viewing artists' works on nearly every available wall, table and pedestal, in boutiques, restaurants and even a barber shop. Scores then convened in Baba Louie's Backroom where BerkshiresJazz.org offered a live double feature of music.

Elli Fordyce, enjoying her third career as a singer, was the headliner, joined by the Berkshires Jazz Trio -- Andy Jaffe, keyboard, Richard Downs, bass, and Peter Coombs, drums -- in a set that included reliable standards, often performed in fresh tempos and unlikely harmonies.

Fordyce, candid about being a mid-septuagenarian, displays still-fine vocal support and pitch, she scats easily and she and Jaffe's instrumental ensemble meshed remarkably, given that they met only a couple of hours prior to the downbeat, and had virtually no rehearsal.

Earlier, Eli Neuberger's Jazz Tuber Trio -- Neuberger on tuba, Jimmy Mazzy, vocals and banjo, and Ted Casher on reeds -- produced some persuasive Dixieland sounds. Their repertory was filled similarly with standards, but their instrumentation, punctuated by Neuberger's tuba, bombastic as well as occasionally surprisingly sensuous, created fascinating textures. Mazzy's flexible high baritone is reminiscent of the favorite old jazz masters of song

Fordyce and the two trios, all of whom contributed their services for the evening as a presumed benefit for BerkshiresJazz and the Arts Walk, returned to wind up the evening with a couple of numbers that also were unrehearsed. Casher noted that he had not played with Jaffe's group for more than 30 years before Friday's gathering. But such risks are what make the art of jazz exciting, both for the players, and certainly for their listeners.