Nur Muhammad "Mahi" Shafiullah

Sometimes you wake up. Sometimes the fall kills you. And sometimes, when you fall, you fly.

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A harmony of contrasts and clashes

Published May 03, 2018

PHOTO: COURTESY OF MIKE MCGINNIS

★★★★✩
Steve Swallow, Art Lande, and Mike McGinnis
The Lilypad
April 21

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I have always loved live music much more than the recorded variant. For me, watching the people who make music is an important part of the experience: their emotions, the joy and the hardship that comes with channeling music out into the world makes the whole experience much more salient than enjoying music in solitude. Jazz concerts are even more powerful — it is not just live music, it is living music: music that comes into existence with the audience, grows with and into the atmosphere, takes shape right in front of you, and morphs into something new as the seconds pass by.

So when The Lilypad, located just a mile from MIT, offered a chance to experience an evening of live jazz, I did not think a second time before accepting the invite, and I am glad I didn’t from the moment I walked in to The Lilypad. It’s hard to find if you don’t know what you’re looking for. No bigger than a regular storefront, the Lilypad can only hold about forty people — which is great if you are looking for an intimate concert. The walls are hand-painted with murals. The seating is simple enough to signal what type of patrons frequent this place: only those who seek the pleasure of music over the looks or the amenities.

We started right at 5:30, with Mike McGinnis introducing the veteran jazz musicians Art Lande and Steve Swallow. If the fact that the trio had more than a hundred years of experience between the three of them was not enough to make you sit up, then surely their music would have done so. First, the trio played three improvisations and then three previously composed pieces. But in both cases, the living, evolving music did not let my attention wander. From time to time, It made the audience wait with bated breath, and at other times, swept them off their feet to a different place entirely.

The best part of the concert was of course the contrast between McGinnis and the two veteran musicians, Lande and Swallow. McGinnis has previously called them both his heroes and seeing him play with them is a treat in itself. The juxtaposition of his spontaneous, energetic music with Lande and Swallow’s self-assured style that only comes with age and experience truly sets itself apart. Given this much context, every little move becomes significant, like McGinnis losing himself in Swallow’s electric bass, or the small gesture by Lande motioning McGinnis to join him in their improvisation. The signature unconventional moves by Lande himself are also dazzling, like his recitation from a book in the middle of an improvisation, or his use of his piano as a percussion instrument.

If you have a free evening coming up and there’s a jazz concert going on, I suggest you go and check it out. You may stumble into the next Art Lande or Steve Swallow. Perhaps if you are lucky — like I was — you may stumble into the real legends and get to tell the story about how you learned to stop worrying and love the music.


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