The Mermaid Lounge
Freilich Plays Dylan
November 26, 2004
I'm at a disadvantage for this review. I haven't heard all of Bob Dylan's songs, but then again, who has? Guitarist Jonathan Freilich? Possibly. I respected the range he exhibited over Dylan's catalogue Friday night at The Mermaid Lounge. With bassist James Singleton, drummer Dave Capello, and organ player Brian Coogan, Freilich turned Dylan songs sideways with his avant-jazz approach. He played a bunch of songs I hadn't heard of.
Still, the best thing about the band's performance was that I didn't have to know the songs to enjoy them. The talent of the players and their ability and desire to take the songs to an outer edge was what carried the night. It was an all-star cast: the mastery of Singleton, the literal tongue in cheek trampolining of Freilich's swift notes into the melody, the wonderfully alien, hesistant, and weirdly on-time accents of Capello, and the what the F sailings of Coogan's fingers as they grazed keys.
The highlight of the night was when manager/bartender Pat Cronin was convinced to do vocals on one of Dylan's blues numbers. What the hell, right? Cronin had to eventually leave the stage after his memory of the lyrics crapped out, but while he was smoking, he did a really good Dylan impression. Great inflection. It was obvious Cronin was a fan.
The first time Freilich brought a band together to play Dylan two or so years ago at The Mermaid Lounge, one guy ended up heckling Freilich because he wasn't singing some of the lyrics. Since the guy obviously had never seen Freilich do his normal avant thing before, and because the performance wasn't advertised as a jazz translation of the songs, he was pissed Freilich wasn't playing and singing Dylan songs note for note. Don't mess with people's Dylan. It's like a Bible to some people. I should know. I feel the same way about The Beatles. Anyway, since Freilich has done Dylan a few times since then, Freilich was able to play instrumental interpretations last night without hassle--until the very end. I should have known. The audience at The Mermaid, thirty or so strong, had been blurting out requests all night, but things came to a head when Freilich introduced the band and announced they were going to play their last song. It started with Rob Wagner, who was let in for free, it was pointed out earlier in the night by Coogan--so he shouldn't be complaining. Wagner was sick of the obscure stuff. He wanted to hear something he knew. And then, one by one, some of the crowd got behind Wagner. "Yeah, what about(insert well-known song here)?" After Freilich jokingly asked the crowd if they'd be satisfied with "Lay Lady Lay," he sang it for a couple lines. Lord, no. I don't think anyone wanted to hear, "Lay, Lady, Lay." Wagner countered by saying that Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" had been voted as the number one song of all time in a recent Rolling Stone issue. Frelich quickly brushed that off and went into "All Along The Watchtower" with the band. The crowd was happy. This is when Singleton shone. Man, it was amazing, and I don't use that word lightly. I take for granted the amount of great jazz in the city, but Singleton took the melody line to a different area code during his solo, but he kept returning to recognizable and proper notes during the song's progress. He leaned over his bass to reach the higher notes, and he molested it as he turned out some kind of revelation variation. Beautiful. Magnifique!
After the song was over, Freilich joked that "Watchtower" was a lesser-known song. He also said that Friday night's performance was probably gonna be the last time they do Dylan because the Mermaid was the only place that would support it. Say it ain't so. What about The Dragon's Den?