A few years ago, if you headed to the North Side for a little after-dinner music -- especially the jazzy, bluesy kind -- you'd have gone to the James Street Tavern. The void left by that venue's demise has been at least partially filled by the late-night concert series at the New Hazlett Theater.
This Fri., June 26, marks the Hazlett debut of a jazz group that's flown under the radar for a while, called Charles Wallace. The group consists of guitarist Ethan Winograd (of rockers Mommy and Didi Mau), drummer Jay Matula (of jazz-rockers WaterShed 5tet and currently of Capgun Quartet and Paul Labrise's band), bassist Justin Brown (Hood Gang and Daryl Fleming's Public Domain) and trumpeter Kyle Simpson.
Charles Wallace addresses jazz standards in a manner rarely seen in this region. "The traditional book of standards is based on Broadway and popular song," says Winograd, "but this is 50 years later, so from our perspective, the book should include The Beatles, Neil Young, David Bowie, or whatever you're listening to now." Major jazz artists are already doing this, such as the Bad Plus, which has reinterpereted rockers from Pink Floyd, Nirvana and Heart. (Winograd, whose musical journey began way back in the early '90s as an original member of Rusted Root, first attempted this direction later that decade with a quartet called Jazz Vultures, which included Brown.)
The group's original pieces flow from Matula, who works with influences from Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, and from Simpson, who has classical training. "[Simpson's] stuff is more post-bop in the Brecker Brothers vein, with more organized, arranged charts instead of just heads and solos," says Winograd.
Charles Wallace works its magic in a regular slot at the Backstage Bar, where listeners catch the band on their way to the Cultural District's theaters. There, "most people don't come to see you specifically, so you don't have to project your identity," says Winograd. "You can't be adventurous sonically, like getting into noise, but you can work your craft and be left alone to do it, so we like that.
"You don't want it to be elevator music," he adds; "it requires that creative, improvisational spark. Almost like a jam band, it needs that element where the musicians can have a conversation."
For Winograd, the environment dictates how the group will play. "It's going to be different at the Hazlett. We're able to experiment and go much farther off the page, [because] in this situation, we're not background to anything." See for yourself at 10:30 p.m. this Fri., June 26, at the Hazlett. The show costs $5; call 412-320-4610 or visit www.newhazletttheater.org for more information.