The Red Poppy Arthouse was a fitting venue for the Rob Reich Trio, featuring Kally Price last Saturday April 16. The quirky arrangement of the room–an intimate hodgepodge of unmatched chairs and cushions–matched the music, which itself drew from disparate genres and favored functionality in its forms over rigid traditionalism. The trio and vocal arrangements were all delightfully crafted in how they featured the individual strength of the musicians and Kallys vocals, while maintaining a strict faithfulness to the early 20th-century jazz, blues, and American popular music aesthetic of the band.

Rob started the set with a left-hand ostinato of straight 8th notes on the piano, which could have been the beginning of a 70s rock cover. The melody “I Got Rhythm”  appeared in snatches, first in the bass, then as a rhythm in the drums-always intimated, but never explicitly played. After they were finished implying the melody, the trio (Rob Reich on piano, Daniel Fabricant on bass, and Beth Goodfellow on drums) improvised together, focusing more on developing the form, rather than showcasing individual virtuosity on their respective instruments. They opted not to play the melody a second time and ended the tune (at least, as far as I could tell), which was a pleasant departure from the conventions of straight-ahead jazz. “I Got Rhythm”  may be the most-played tune in jazz, including the different melodies musicians have written over its familiar chords over the past  80 years. Despite this fact, the trio managed to play it with incredible vibrancy and creativity.

“Puttin on the Ritz”  further demonstrated the unique spin the group puts on all of their performances. Joining the trio, Kally opted to sing the original lyrics-about poor Harlemites spending their meager means in order to dress and feel rich for a night out. It was a treat to hear this version of the song, which had much more historic and cultural weight than the popular version.

While the arrangements themselves were great, it was the quiet virtuosity of each of the musicians that made them shine. Kally’s vocals oozed heartbreak and the blues with an expressivity that is muted yet powerful in its honesty. Rob’s solos, whether on accordion or piano, danced the border of spontaneity and plain good taste, fitting the style and trajectory of the whole group as much as his accompaniment. Daniel’s bass playing synced with Rob’s left hand and Beth’s drumming, which seemed to draw on hundreds of different sonic options from her meager four-piece set. Collectively, the group acted as a unit, feeding off each other’s energy and responding to each other’s ideas throughout the eclectic set of standards, haunting originals, rags, and one Souaa march.

The Rob Reich trio plays a free garden concert at the Rengstorff House in Palo Alto on August 12th at 2pm.

Kally’s group, which features Rob Reich, plays every  first Sunday at Amnesia, 8-11 pm. Their next performance is July 1st.

Beth Goodfellow and Rob Reich also play together in the band Gaucho, which plays every Wednesday 8-10pm at Amnesia.

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