Scene: Billy Childs Quartet and Rocco Somazzi birthday at the Blue Whale, New Year's Eve 2011.


Rocco Somazzi was laboring on his birthday, but that comes with a music promoter's territory -- New Year's Eve is always a work night. So he was weaving/charging head down through the crowd like a nonviolent bull, his standard black T-shirt stretched out, his expression fixed in a more focused version of his usual genial determination. Somazzi was not only overseeing the food selection, but coordinating (along with Blue Whale proprietor Joon Lee) a live NPR broadcast of the Billy Childs Quartet's performance, emceed by singer and radio host Dee Dee Bridgewater.

And it went real well. Putting aside his artier chamber music for the occasion, Childs went for an upbeat cool that made for energetic partying without the traditional slobber. His long lines of crisp piano invention, based mostly on his own extensive catalog, drew us into intellectual intensity reminiscent of Coltrane's "Impressions," studded with a not-especially-tropical "Brazilian Tune," a rambunctious take on Thelonious Monk's "Rhythm-a-ning," and the civilized balladry of Horace Silver's "Peace" (sung by Bridgewater). He closed with the excellent "The Hunted," a shadowy, complex, sometimes dissonant excursion that was maybe a tad too jaunty for its title.

On saxes and flute, Bob Sheppard nailed everything with effortless precision and inspiration while providing Childs with the coloristic variety he craves. Although the sound was unaccommodating to Tim Lefebvre's electric and acoustic bass, his interaction with Gary Novak's drums provided just the kind of brisk, structured support that enabled masterly music to communicate clearly.

And on the eve of Somazzi's relocation to the Bay Area, we got to sing "Happy Birthday" and wish Rocco, in both the solar and geographical senses, many happy returns.

Listen to the whole well-recorded 90 minutes here.

And read Matt Duersten's timely and informative recent interview with Rocco Somazzi here.