Diehl Trio Swings with Gusto at Gilmore Keyboard Festival


Aaron Diehl performs on May 5 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, as part of the Gilmore Keyboard Festival.

(Photo: Chris McGuire)

The Aaron Diehl Trio’s performance on May 5 was the debut jazz concert at the Eccentric Café, located inside Bell’s, the famous craft brewery in Kalamazoo, Michigan. One from a series of jazz shows presented during this year’s Irving S. Gilmore International Keyboard Festival (a biennial event), pianist Diehl performed before a packed house alongside bassist Paul Sikivie and drummer Lawrence Leathers.

Starting off with Horace Silver’s “Opus De Funk,” audience members were enthralled by the pianist’s gracefully light touch as the trio immediately turned more toward swing than funk. Leathers’ drums accented Diehl’s light, fervent touch with feathery cymbal swashes and dancing pops across drumheads.

Drawing from Diehl’s 2015 album, Space Time Continuum (Mack Avenue), the band played the minor-key “Flux Capacitor,” an understated, uptempo piece that highlighted Diehl’s affinities with Count Basie—the tune robust as it featured lots of interaction with the drummer.

Along the way, Diehl’s banter with the audience seemed natural, and a good way to for this trio to connect with new fans. The trio’s music, as well as its formal attire, embodied elegance.

After some swinging numbers, what followed was a more meditative, somber piece by Philip Glass that walked—as opposed to running.

The highlight of the concert was a miniature medley of Thelonious Monk music. Beginning with “Ugly Beauty” played as a dainty waltz, it featured Sikivie’s plaintive bass playing and a florid Diehl at the keys. A transition into “Green Chimneys” followed, Diehl’s chewy chords and Leathers’ rat-a-tat beats on snare and hi-hat providing just the right touch.

It was a sight to behold, this formal, classy trio (which could have fit right in at the recent Jazz Day concert at the White House) starting to get deeply funky. Diehl was impressive, working it out with lots of chords as the trio settled into a medium-tempo swing groove. It was graceful, gliding, en route to what felt like an inevitable return to “Ugly Beauty” to close out.

As soon as they were done with Monk, they were onto another icon: Hoagy Carmichael and “Stardust.” This lovely rendition was a bass feature for Sikivie, who took the prelude along with the melody in full stride. The trio concluded with a bit more, but for this audience, the spell had been cast, and the festival’s new venue had been inaugurated.

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