BY RUSSELL CLEPPER
Whidbey Life Magazine, contributor
Aug. 21, 2013
Three times one major seventh, plus a two minor over a diminished seventh, plus the five to the one, raised to the power of X notes in four beats, equals Trio Nouveau with Greg Beck at Ott and Murphy Winery Tasting Room at 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24. Jazz, baby.
And a one…
Trio Nouveau offers the fine jazz guitar work of Troy Chapman, Greg Beck and Keith Bowers supported by Kristi O’Donnell’s groove on her big double bass, “Emi.” The band performs for virtually every live music venue on the island and is one of the most popular island groups for weddings and other private events. The back and forth musical conversation that Chapman and Bowers generate with its demonstration of their technical expertise and masterful, imaginative improvisational skills, provides the well-deserved basis for that popularity.
Normally, the group only presents two guitar players who perform with O’Donnell, hence the Trio Nouveau. This Saturday night, however, Beck will team up with Chapman and Bowers to create a third layer of sonic tapestry to add to the already rich, improvisational interplay created by the usual two-guitarist format.
“It will be the Trio Nouveau Quartet,” Chapman said with a laugh.
With three times the jazz chords and all those progressions, the night promises a journey filled with cascading notes and mesmerizing soundscapes. Add a glass or two of fine wine to that, plus the spectacular view of Saratoga Passage outside the large picture windows at Ott and Murphy’s cabaret and, voila! – romance, Whidbey Island style.
At a recent performance at Useless Bay Coffee Company, Bowers talked about the band’s style.
“We play lyrical jazz standards, songs mostly from the 20’s and 30’s and on into the big band era in the 50’s, that use chord changes that hang together with a common language in its harmonic aspects. They call it the Great American Songbook,” he said.
Playing with such high-octane guitar masters gives pause to O’Donnell, who only began to play 12 years ago. Now she is performing one of the most challenging American popular music forms with some of the Pacific Northwest’s top interpreters of it. She considers that to be “a miracle.”
“I feel deeply honored that they have taken me under their wing,” she said.
“They have all greatly encouraged me. It’s like this love that has come to me. I have learned experientially with these guys.”
She said she has to be careful during shows to not let the beauty of the guitarists’ performances dazzle her as she plays.
“What they are doing is instantaneous creativity, which I thrive on,” she said.
O’Donnell is indeed in the company of deep experience when it comes to the musicians she’ll share the stage with on Saturday.
Bowers has had a lifelong fascination with jazz, which he heard as a youngster on programs on Cincinnati’s NPR station and others throughout the Midwest. However, he had trouble finding mentors he could sit with and learn from back then.
“I wanted to play it, but there was nobody around to play it with,” Bowers said. So he learned and mastered the Chet Atkins fingerstyle approach, which fuses country and American roots picking with jazz. Atkins greatly admired Django Reinhardt.
Bowers finally got his chance to delve deeply into swing jazz when he joined Billet-Deux, a group that Chapman founded here on Whidbey Island with Steve Kirk in 2002. Chapman currently performs with Pearl Django, the Seattle gypsy jazz group that one reviewer called “… the preeminent US-based ensemble dedicated solely to this art form.”
Chapman will also appear on the island with Pearl Django on Saturday, Aug. 31, when the band caps off the Whidbey Island Winery “Shakin’ the Vines” concert series, and for the 13th edition of DjangoFest, which runs from Sept. 18 to 22. Both shows are in Langley.
Beck also has a long, storied career as a Pacific Northwest musician and has won many accolades including induction into the Northwest Area Music Associations’ Hall of Fame in 1989. Besides his gigs with Trio Nouveau, he also plays lead guitar for the Whidbey Island Latin jazz group, Bahia. He is highly regarded among fellow musicians for his tastefulness and experience on the Northwest music scene.
People in the audience on Saturday night will instantly know what O’Donnell means by being dazzled by these musicians. OK, maybe not instantly, but at least by the time the five goes to the one.
Ott & Murphy Winery Tasting Room is at 204 First St. in downtown Langley. Reservations are recommended.
Here’s Trio Nouveau’s website.
Here’s Ott & Murhpy Winery website.
Russell Clepper is a singer-songwriter who plies his trade locally and around the country. He also is a substitute teacher for the Oak Harbor School District.
(Pictured at top, Troy Chapman at DjangoFest NW 2012./Photo courtesy of Troy Chapman. Photo of Trio Nouveau by ML Harris)