Cliff Barnes – organ
James Johnson III – drums
Brett Williams – keys
Every year throughout the month of August, the City of Pittsburgh’s Parks Department holds it’s Reservoir of Jazz series in Highland Park. These are really nice community events and a great way to spend a Sunday evening in the summertime regardless of who is playing. A couple of weeks ago, a few friends of mine decided to round up the kids and some lawn chairs and make our way over to see the Cliff Barnes Trio.
Out of all of the music scheduled this year, Cliff Barnes was truthfully the only artist I was really hoping to be able to see. I’ve seen him play a few times in an organ trio with Dan Wilson and Dave Throckmorton and I really like his soulful approach. I wasn’t sure who Cliff would bring to round out his trio but I knew the show would be good. What was totally unexpected (and TOTALLY welcomed!!!) was a trio consisting of two keyboardists, one of which was Brett Williams!
This non-traditional lineup was not afraid to push boundaries and take things a bit out of the box, something that doesn’t always happen at these. As I walked to the stage area from car, they played a different sort of take on Duke Ellington’s jazz staple “Caravan”. Right then, I knew this wasn’t going to be a night of cookie cutter arrangements. The musical highlight of the evening came for me shortly after with a Brett William‘s led version of Herbie Hancock‘s “Butterfly” from his 1974 record Thrust. Brett is based in NYC now and is doing all kinds of things like playing with Louis Cato, sitting in with Stephen Colbert’s house band, touring the world with bassist Marcus Miller. He plays with alot of confidence and he sounds great. Another highlight was a ten minute version of D’Angelo’s “Spanish Joint“. These guys were obviously having a great time playing this material together and the vibe was certainly shared by the appreciative audience.
The 2017 Reservoir of Jazz series has now come and gone. These events are really valuable and we’re lucky to have them. I’m just hoping to have a few more groups like this one on next year’s schedule. And, honestly, I really want to win one of the 50/50’s next year as well!!! Fingers crossed.
UPDATE (9.20.17): James Johnson III posted a video of the whole first set HERE. Dig.