Saul ‘Zeb’ Rubin epitomises an aspect of the Manhattan jazz scene that receives scant media coverage but lies at the heart of the city’s reputation as one of the jazz centres of the world. Since graduating from Hartt School, where he studied with Jackie McLean, he’s built an enviable reputation as a player among his fellow guitarists, and has sporadically entered the wider public’s consciousness through work as a player/arranger with Roy Hargrove’s big band and a continuing association with that doyen of the Manhattan jazz tradition, Sonny Rollins. Yet, for much of his career, he’s alternated a day job as a graphic animator with a night-time existence tirelessly working at the grassroots, running Zebulon Sound And Light, a not-for-profit performance space that’s helped germinate the career of Gregory Porter for one, organising the NYC Guitar festival, and plying his trade in the clubs and bars that nourish the scene.
He’s over in Europe for a rare string of dates, and tonight’s show at Brighton’s The Verdict is the second of a pair of UK gigs sharing the frontline with Gilad Atzmon, who’s brought his longtime associate Yaron Stavi on bass, with Enzo Zirilli on drums rounding off this truly international quartet. ‘Say It (Over And Over Again)’ opened proceedings; Atzmon on tenor showing off his hard, biting tone in the tradition of the song’s most famous interpreter, but with his own characteristic romantic slurs and wide vibrato applied at will, Rubin giving a lesson in creative pianistic comping and ripples of Lenny Breau-style tapped harmonics. ‘Invitation’ followed, a sultry tango – Rubin’s solo mixed radical reharmonisation with Benson-esque soul-to-bop licks in a compendium of technique which Zirilli matched in his irrepressibly imaginative drum exchanges. This was in the best tradition of improv; songs from the repertoire, selected more or less on the fly, allowed the band to demonstrate their individual strengths. ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ provided an excuse for a proper tear-up, with the zurna-like wail of Atzmon’s high register, Rubin’s NYC funk licks and Zirilli’s quirky percussion held down by the the unobtrusive rock-solid foundation of Stavi’s unamplified bass. The whole was truly more than a sum of its parts.
Atzmon’s ebullient personality made a perfect foil for his co-leader’s self-effacing charm. If his sheets of 16ths on ‘All Or Nothing At All’ tended to dissipate the energy rather than stoke the fires, he was all focused sincerity on ‘Here’s That Rainy Day’, embellishing the hell out of the melody with a tumultuous flock of slurs and trills. His own middle-eastern flavoured original gave the band a chance to show what they could do outside the post-bop idiom, as did Rubin’s future-funk piece. The latter had a blast on ‘Cute’, swinging out the riffs like a Basie band stalwart, and played a stunning solo on ‘What’s New’ that reached deep into his harmonic bag.
All four players seemed delighted to encounter the very different voices each brought to the mix, and were stimulated to the extent that they were still playing as midnight approached. They gave the impression that they could have continued all night were it not for the vagaries of train timetables and airline schedules. Plaudits are due to promoter Andy Lavender for bringing this connoisseurs’ delight to Brighton and filling the house at such short notice.
– Eddie Myer
– Photos by Lisa Wormsley