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Flutist Ali Ryerson On The Road in Washington

Flutist Ali Ryerson is the epitome of the hard working jazz artist; on a recent two-day visit to the Washington DC area she packed in two club performances, individual lessons with private students and a flute workshop at a local university. It will be her last road trip for some time as she turns her attention to some more long-term projects..

Ryerson's first appearance was in the lounge at the Tabard Inn, a comfortable and informal room near Dupont Circle, where bassist Victor Dvoskin holds forth with a duo every Sunday evening and where Ryerson guests whenever she is in town. Dvoskin being in his native Russia on this occasion, Ryerson was accompanied by guitarist Steve Herberman ( Herberman is an excellent player, as evidenced by his three CDs, the most recent of which, Ideals is just now appearing. Specializing in the seven-string guitar, Herberman is well equipped to work in a duo, a setting which, as at the Tabard, is often imposed by economic necessity. Fortunately, some players have been able to make a virtue out of necessity and turn the duo into a sub-genre of its own. This seems to work well for flutists; Ali's frequent partner, Holly Hofmann, for example works and records with both Mike Wofford and Bill Cunliffe, and Ryerson herself worked in a highly successful duo with the late guitarist Joe Beck that produced three fine recordings. On this occasion, she was working with Herberman for the first time, and they spent some time meshing their individual styles into a whole. It is the guitarist or pianist who has to do most of the adapting in the duo context, being the sole accompanist but, when working with a horn player, finding themselves with no accompaniment during their own solos. This requires a pianist to have a good left hand or suggesting the use of the seven-string instrument for a guitarist. This is a specialized skill, but Herberman demonstrated considerable mastery of it this evening, spinning out bass lines and chords much of the time. Ryerson responded with some typically fine solos on both flute and alto flute, displaying her unique combination of elegant phrasing and rhythmic intensity. The last set left the small but appreciative audience hoping to hear these two working together again at some future time.

As a clinician for Sankyo flutes, Ali Ryerson holds clinics and workshops all over the country, and the next day found her doing just that at Howard University. Dr. Sais Kamalidiin, head of the flute program at Howard, has developed perhaps the country's only college jazz flute ensemble, a feat he accomplishes with each year's new entering class, both through his skill in developing ensemble playing and his ongoing accumulation of quality arrangements. This session found the five flute ensemble in attendance, along with members of the Washington Flute Collective which includes this writer. (With all of this activity, along with the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection at the Library of Congress, Washington is indeed the flute capital of the country, if not the world!) Ryerson, who was there to conduct a master class for these participants, seemed impressed with what Dr. Kamalidiin, who coaches the Flute Collective as well as his own students, has been able to put together. She heard the student group play three of their arrangements, worked on phrasing issues, talked about scale/chord theory, suggested practice routines and spent time with individual players, going well over the allotted two hours, breaking away only in time to run to her evening gig.

This was a to be at one of the few remaining jazz venues in the greater Washington area, which is held at Vicino's,a restaurant in Silver Spring, MD. Utilizing the roomy basement, local and visiting artists have appeared there on Monday nights for over three years under the auspices of Jazz Knights, a community of jazz promoters and artists arising out of Ronnie Wells' now defunct East Coast Jazz Festival. Here Ali was to reiterate an earlier appearance which paired her with one of Baltimore's leading groups, the Fab Trio, consisting of Frank Russo, Amy Shook, and Bobob Butta respectively on drums, bass and piano. (See review of the CD Introducing The Fab Trio at: / They form a powerful rhythm section and they have a remarkable effect on Ryerson, pushing her into some of her most aggressive playing. Ryerson has been noted, by this writer as well as others, more for her beautiful tone and elegant phrasing than for rhythmic excitement. Yet closer listening to her work reveals a profound sense of swing, based on her remarkable attack. While the instrument does lend itself to a sharp attack, it is easy to make the notes crack if you tongue too hard, especially in the lowest register. Ryerson has overcome this problem, even on the alto flute with the result that she can swing like the clappers! It is was this side of her playing that was in evidence this evening as the Fab Trio pushed her to her limits; at times her playing was almost raw, her sound approaching effects resulting from what are termed "extended techniques" that in this case were simply the result of the strength of her attack.

The quartet tackled two sets of standards and jazz originals; "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Body & Soul," taken as a fast Bossa Nova, "Stolen Moments" with Ali digging in on alto flute, "Windows," "A Child is Born," "Wave," "Speak Low," "Black Orpheus," Horace Silver's "Peace," Joe Henderson's "Recordame." Butta soloed effectively, despite a below-par piano, Shook and Russo pushed everyone and took their share of solo space. It was an exhilarating evening, played to a room full of flutists.

Ms. Ryerson is taking a break from the road for a few months. She will be finishing work on a long-awaited method book for jazz flutists and preparing for the next performance of the Jazz Flute Big Band at the National Flute Association 2009 convention in New York. Meanwhile, let's hope Ali will record with the Fab Trio sometime soon. The resulting recording should be sent to anyone who still doubts that the flute is a jazz instrument!

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Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ali Ryerson
  • Subtitle: Hard Working Flutist's Last Road Trip for Several Months
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