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Review: 40 Fingers at the Jazz Kitchen



40 Fingers
Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Ave.
Sunday, Oct. 19

5 stars
Magical, mesmerizing, momentous. The Jazz Kitchen was transformed on October 19 and we were transported with 40 Fingers, 10 each belonging to four gifted Midwest jazz pianists: Steve Allee, Indianapolis; Phil DeGreg, Cincinnati; Luke Gillespie, Bloomington [Ind.]; and Chip Stephens, Urbana-Champagne. There was a bonus of 20 more with drummer Kenny Phelps and bassist Nick Tucker, tucked alongside two grand pianos nestled in the center of the room just past the front entry. Tonight the stage held tables for two and four — we all looked Southward.

Steve Allee was radiant in introducing the program — “This is an opportunity for piano players to visit together, to share secrets. We’re all busy playing on our own someplace so getting together is well…” Watching their fingers was a musical treat, but feeling the chemistry through facial expressions as they played off each other and obseserving the dynamics of their body language as they each brought something of themselves into a piece was mouth-dropping. And then there were the moments when they individually meshed with Phelps and Tucker in trio episodes. The Great American Songbook gained huge luster with the arrangements—spin-off licks and coiling back to the melody, transporting and transforming the expected into something different. In the thick of it you were outguessing where they were going or just kicking back and letting it flow into you.

Allee and DeGreg opened with “My Romance,” setting the mood for the love of the art and the people who make it happen. Stephens expanded the well known “All the Things You Are” with Phelps and Tucker adding a verse not usually played. Gillespie and Stephens presented a conversational “Savoy.” DeGreg with Phelps and Tucker teased with “One Note Samba.” Stephens and Allee layered emotions for “Alone together.” DeGreg and Gillespie played text against subtext for a dancerly “Embraceable You.” Tucker and Phelps joined Allee for a ‘tribute to legends we lost this year.” Mentioning pianist Horace Silver also brought to mind vocalist Jimmy Scott and bassist Charlie Haden. Brubeck’s “It’s a Raggy Waltz” with its shifting accents brought music and reality into sync. DeGreg and Gillespie brought “Speak Low” into a symphonic mode. Gillespie with Tucker and Phelps colored “Rhapsody” with twists and turns and finding their way back into the heart. Allee and Stephens gave us a pulsing “Just in Time” and then the finale of all four switching sides and seats for a fun-filled rousing “Caravan.”

If it gets better than this anywhere else, I don’t need to travel there. Because the best is here at home.


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