I haven't heard Rick in years, since he moved to New York (and has since moved back to Montreal). When he left, he was a kid with a prodigious amount of talent. It was obvious from the opening "Boplicity" how mature a player he has become. He is definitely a bassist to listen for - a compelling soloist, a rock-solid foundation, and a blooming compositional voice. As much virtuosity was present on stage through the set, I was more taken with the amount of listening going on. Starting the set at a slow simmer, Hekselman let the melody slowly unravel as the trio hit subtle, unexpected accents in unison. Metric trickery was implied and hinted at, without overtaking the music.
The rest of the set was made up of mostly originals. Rosato's "Migrations" was a straight-eighth groove in 5/4 with Hekselman's fluidly overdriven solo. His is a very smooth tone, sometimes with almost no attack, just lines weaving and rolling into each other. A tune of Gilad's, "New York Angels," followed, peppered with what seemed to be sly quotes to Babe Ruth's "The Mexican." Hoenig started on brushes and eventually moved to sticks. Throughout the set, Hoenig would anchor his polyrhythms in grooves rooted in samba and New Orleans street beats. (Anyone who has followed this blog for a while, or has talked to me, knows what a sucker I am for those "between-the-cracks" kind of grooves.) Hekselman started a solo guitar intro at almost dead silent, barely amplified, that morphed into "Moonlight in Vermont." His almost pianistic choice of voicings and the development of that introduction was one of the highlights of the set. It ended with a series of false endings that almost, but not quite, wore out its welcome. After Hekselman's 6/8 feel "One More Song" and Rosato's "Origami," the set proper ended with Hoenig's "Green Spleen." Roaring out of the gate with heavily distorted power chords, the tune went through a set of rhythmic modulations, eventually landing in Clyde Stubblefield "Funky Drummer" mode.
Returning for a loudly demanded encore, the group played "Prelude to a Kiss," with Hoenig playing the melody (on pitch!) on kit, with Hekselman answering. It ended with a series of trades between Hekselman and Hoenig, a device that would have been terribly corny - or to use Kurt Rosenwinkel's famous phrase, "insider jazz" - if it weren't so well-executed and delivered with a palpable sense of humour. Indeed, there was a contagious sense of fun in the room, emanating from the stage. Bravo, Rick.