Thursday, May 31, 2018

Viktorija Gečytė at Mr. Tipple’s

As can be seen from the above logo, Mr. Tipple’s Recording Studio offers “soul and spirits.” The latter is provided with a well-stocked and satisfyingly diverse bar with a six-tap dispensary for both wine and local beer. The “soul” comes from the fact that the venue offers live jazz almost every night, frequently with two different acts on a single night.

Last night Mr. Tipple’s hosted Lithuanian jazz singer Viktorija Gečytė, who is performing at a different venue in San Francisco every day this week. Gečytė is currently based in Paris and is currently in the middle of her Tenth Anniversary Tour that is taking in both the East and West Coasts as well as key cities in Europe. The tour began at the beginning of the month and will continue through July.

She is making the American portion of her tour with bassist Gene Perla, who leads a trio whose other members are Sean Gough on piano and Jon Arkin on drums. Things were a bit crowded on the Mr. Tipple’s bandstand with a baby grand piano and Arkin’s drum kit taking most of the space. There was also more than a suggestion that much of the clientele was there for the spirits; but those who came for the music tended to be attentive listeners, perhaps even more attentive that those who visit the more “mainstream” sites for jazz in this city.

With the exception of one song in Lithuanian, Gečytė’s offerings were taken from the Great American Songbook. However, while the “traditional” take on that Songbook tends to gravitate back to the Thirties and advance gradually from there, Gečytė had no trouble taking her repertoire all the way up to the Sixties. The result was that she could throw new light on songs that many of us know only through their initial recorded releases.

She definitely has the voice to cast such a light. She clearly attaches great significance to both pitch and rhythm, bringing solid clarity to both. Considering what many of today’s jazz vocalists do in the name of “stylization,” the solidity of Gečytė’s foundations counts for a lot. She is all about the music, first how it was conceived by the song writer and then about what she can do with that “raw material” to provide her own perspectives on performance without compromising (or abusing, as sadly seems to be the case with many other singers) either the words or the tune behind them.

Perla’s trio served up two selections before Gečytė took the bandstand. Gough is one of those pianists who can jump, feet first, into an elaborate fabric of embellishing riffs without necessarily letting on as to what he is embellishing. If there are “silent themes” (as Frank Tirro calls them) behind his piano work, Gough did little to suggest their presence. For one of the selections, I thought I heard “Stella by Starlight,” but only in a brief fragment in Perla’s bass work.

Perla was definitely a “full instrument” player, providing far more than rhythm walking up and down at a steady pace. I particularly liked the way he used the open E string (the lowest pitch) to punctuate some of his busier lines in a higher register. Similarly, his approach to rhythm provided a counterpoint of sorts to Arkin’s drum work. There was never a dull moment when this trio was at work, yet they also knew exactly how to accompany Gečytė without overshadowing her. The entire set ran for about 75 minutes, and there was never a feeling that any one of the selections was overstaying its welcome.

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