CLOSEUP: BERKLEE REGATTABAR COURTYARD SERIES

Left to Right: Alex Melcher (d), Zac Zinger (alto, EWI), Abraham Olivo (keyboards), Kellan Thomas (bass)

Harvard Square must be the place for which the French wrote “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” and that’s never truer than on a summer evening like last Monday, July 11.   I got off the Red Line that night and walked toward the Charles, past legions of cyclists, girls strumming acoustic guitars, and a foreign film title on the Brattle marquee.  Passing Charlie’s Kitchen, I crossed Mt. Auburn St. to the Charles Hotel.

And I found a special little gem of a concert there by the Zac Zinger Group in the courtyard of the Regattabar.  It’s one of many student events hosted by Berklee in its “Summer in the City” series.  The series has spread to pockets all over town (and offshore on the Boston Harbor Islands and Martha’s Vineyard).  The concept evolved over the last several years, Berklee’s Vice President for External Affairs Tom Riley told me. It’s a win-win for Berklee students who need venues, and listeners who want to hear students’ music.

Sponsored by Natixis Global Asset Management, the series now extends beyond Boston, with bookings as far west as Hawaii and as far north as Toronto.  Equally wide is its scope of musical genres, including bluegrass, singer/songwriters, world music and other styles.  According to Michael Borgida, who manages the Boston concerts, the most popular shows here are Harborwalk Sounds at ICA and the Tito Puente Latin Music Series.  Last year’s Tito Puente concert at City Hall Plaza had an estimated audience of 25,000. (Mention that to the folks who eliminated the Latin Jazz category from the Grammies this year.)

But to get back to the Zac Zinger Group concert that kicked off the Regattabar series – it filled the hotel’s courtyard under cooperative skies with a crowd of babyboomers, babes, and babies who stayed for the whole show.  Zinger, ably supported by Kellan Thomas on fretless bass and drummer Alex Melcher, played a clean alto sax with good tone.  His all-original sets were largely funk, with some lyrical ballads on which he played EWI.  Zinger has potential in composition, and is also a fine band leader with a sure sense of dynamics, which his group follows carefully.  A guest appearance by Clay Lyons on tenor sax shows how much Zinger will grow as he adds other horn players for trades, solos and scored lines.

Keep an eye on keyboardist Abraham Olivo.  He is already a very accomplished pianist with fluidity, speed, understanding of stylistic nuance and strong musicality.  And he has so much fun playing that instrument!  Olivo finished each run lifting his fingers off the keys with a smile.  If he hasn’t already played for Danilo Perez at the Berklee Global Jazz Institute, he might want to do that one day soon.

When the concert ended, the musicians quickly made their way to the burger grill, in that time-honored tradition of grabbing a free meal at the gig as soon as you can.  On the way to the chow line, bassist Kellan Thomas mused on what their plans were, individually and collectively.  It’s a pretty open agenda.  “See what develops here, or New York, whatever comes along,”  he said. For now, it’s playing in Boston, in the summer, in the city. http://www.berklee.edu/events/summer/

 

 

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