The Bria Skonberg Quintet recently visited an art gallery in snowy Utica for a memorable performance. Bria Skonberg has grown as a musician, in style, proficiency, and presence, since she burst on the scene over a decade ago with two nations of traditional jazz devotees basking in her broadening fame. The broader audience she has reached can be seen at the mainstream jazz festivals that have booked her in recent years. They could also be seen within the main gallery of the Munson Williams Proctor Institute this January.
The hall was filled with 390 ticket holders and I would guess several dozen others. A nearly full house but comfortably so. At the beginning of the second set, Bria took advantage of the unique set up of the room playing her horn clearly from the darkness of the rear balcony and finding her way casually down the twin staircase from the upper concourse to the stage. She has cultivated an excellent stage presence with appeal both to local concert series subscribers, completely unfamiliar with her, and the several dozen travelers from across the state that have watched her for years.
She opened the concert with Louis Armstrong’s “Hotter Than That”, played with a welcoming New Orleans feel centered on her trumpet. She followed that up with a bluesier and more modern “Down in the Deep” giving the floor to clarinetist Patrick Bartley who has accompanied her, along with most of this band on recent tours. They’d just returned from an extended stay in Shang Hai. It was there, she told the audience, that they added a Clifford Brown bop number to their book- “Daahoud”- which they played later in the show.
After opening with two extended instrumentals, the audience gasped in pleasant surprise when she introduced her vocal prowess on Nat King Cole’s “I Was A Little Too Lonely (And You Were A Little Too Late)”. The song was featured on her self titled first release for SONY in 2016. About half of the 15 titles played over two sets had crowd-pleasing vocals, including songs associated with Sara Vaughn, 30s trumpeter Valaida Snow, and others that Skonberg admires.
The instrumental numbers demonstrated the strengths of the band. Which included Mathis Picard at the piano, Devin Starks on bass, and Darien Douglas on Drums, along with Patrick Bartley, a star in his own right, on reeds. If you saw these four guys together on the subway, even without their instruments, you’d known instantly they were a jazz band. It was comical really and added something to the charm of the evening.
Several of the titles played were Skonberg originals from her many albums. The rousing closer, (before sending the audience off with an encore of “Dream a Little Dream of Me”), was Skonberg’s own “So is the Day”. It was the title track from her 2012 album and has become her signature. Simple in lyric, it is a perfect emotional vehicle for her playing and it garnered the biggest applause of the night.
I would encourage fans to dig a little into her albums, including the recent ones from SONY and another that will be released sometime this spring. Bria Skonberg has never felt boxed in as a musician. There was a Latin strain on her recent albums, one that I found surprisingly absent from the live show. I wouldn’t be surprised to find the new release has more of a bop element, but she always stays within approachable, tradition-honoring classic jazz.
All Photos John Herr
Other Bria Skonberg Coverage:
Bria Skonberg: Three Albums Compared(2018)
Bria Skonberg: A New Force in Jazz(2018)
A Hot Time In The North Country (2018)
Bria Skonberg –Captured in the lenses of Lynn Redmile(2012)
The 51st Eight: A Northern Light- The Education of Bria Skonberg (2008)
A glimpse at history! (2007)