Rob Wagner Trio


January 19, 2004

When one man in a crowd of two told the band they were brave for beginning, Rob Wagner said, “It’s their problem if they don’t show up.” Wagner's brazen attitude didn't let him down. On a freezing Monday night, regulars or those attracted by the music still filled the room to medium capacity. The trio was saxophonist Wagner, bassist James Singleton and drummer Ossie Davis.

Wagner blurred modern jazz boundaries. It’s rare to hear modern jazz melodies that are so sweet and almost poppy in their accessibility.

Wagner started the first song with a klezmer, wave-like sax line. He slowly got louder and put the band into a frenzy. The second song was a slower ballad. Davis was off his game, even though for most of the set he floated around his set with robotic precision. When watching an externally explosive player like Singleton, it’s disheartening and deflating when the drummer isn’t on top of it. Singleton had the funkiest, nastiest most effluent bass lines I’ve heard. During the third song, the trio got into a hard bop groove, and before the song, Wagner said under his breath, “Tear it up.” They did.

The set highlight was the next number, the “Hawaiian Song.” This song was evidence that Wagner mixed influences with a light touch. It was a funky, bass controlled, sax floating, slow tempo head rocker. Was it jazz or something else?

During the next fast Coltrane-like number, Wagner played two saxes at once, and funky sloping bass lines swung up and down the fret in a span of a measure. After that was another Klezmer piece. Davis was confident enough to go crazy with snare and tom rolls when the other two were just strolling.

The last song was once again disorienting in its funkiness. Wagner improvised a melody, and Singleton had it down in about fifteen seconds. Amazing. Singleton created trippy, danceable modern jazz by looping a main bass line with a pedal and then playing on top of it.

It was a terrific set. I'd expect nothing less. These guys have two studio albums. Go to a Monday night show and buy one.

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