Pooch’s Playhouse at the Red Sea, March 19th, 2009

What happens when five veteran jazzmen come together for mutual inspiration and free conversation? Welcome to Pooch’s Playhouse, built over about six months of experimentation and collaboration. The “housewarming” was held in January at the 318 in Wayzata, and another “open house” took place on a Late Night gig at the Dakota. The playspace now moves to the Red Sea on the U of M’s West Bank, on Thursday, March 19th at 9 pm.

Pooch’s Playhouse features Bruce “Pooch” Heine on bass, guitarist Joel Shapira, saxophonist Dave Brittain, pianist Mark Asche and percussionist Dave Schmalengerger. These musicians have a number of interconnections—Schapira and Heine play together in the modern trio, Triplicate; Heine, Asche and Brittain perform together with the Cedar Avenue Big Band; Shapira has played with everyone in one context or another. Notes Shapira, “To me this group was a very natural fit...it felt good from day one and developed rapidly into something special to all members that we want to expand upon in the future...I would describe the music as diversely influenced, adventurous and open-ended, but we are first and foremost a pure jazz group, that is the intention of this band... and we are proud of that fact.”

The Musicians

Bruce “Pooch” Heine teaches bass and trombone at St. Cloud State University. With over 20 years of professional performance experience, he’s played with Mose Allison, Jim Rotondi and Barrett Deems. Locally he regularly appears with Triplicate, Cedar Avenue Big Band, the George Avaloz Trio and R&B band Jimeo.

Dave Brittain is a 20-year veteran of the Cedar Avenue Big Band and Vanguard Variety Ensemble; toured the U.S. with Troup America (1940s Radio Hour), and has been featured with pianist Ben Sidran. Locally he’s played with the Paul Renz Quintet and JazzMN Big Band, as well as his own quartet. Currently Dave is on the faculty of Wayzata High School.

Joel Shapira lives and performed in New York City for over six years, where he also studied at the Mannes School of Music. He has a long-standing partnership with singer Charmin Michelle (Charmin & Shapira) and has been a member of Triplicate for 12 years and the Vic Volare Orchestra for ten years. In addition to his jazz dates, Joel is contemporary music director at Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Maplewood and performs for private events solo and with small ensembles.

Mark Asche is active in the Twin Cities’ jazz, blues and gospel scenes. He’s performed with Kenny Loggins. John Lee Hooker, Viola Wills, Bob Berg and Paul Wertico, and locally with Dave Karr, Gordy Johnson, Phil Hey, Gordy Knudtson, Bobby Peterson and the JazzMN Big Band. He’s also appeared on many recordings by The Senders, Mojo Buford, Dave Graf and The Hornheads.

Dr. Dave Schmalenberger holds a DMA in Percussion Performance and World Music from West Virginia University. His resume includes performing with John Scofield, Tim Ries, Larry Grenadier and Steve Turre, and locally with the JazzMN Big Band, Vocalessence and shows at the Ordway and Children’s Theater. Currently Dave is Assistant Head of the Drum Department at McNally Smith College in St. Paul.

The Music

According to Shapira, the repertoire for Pooch’s Playhouse “features about about 1/3 originals, 2/3 jazz tunes and standards, done in a ‘modern jazz quintet’ style....lots of sax/guitar/ piano interaction with linear ideas and melody. Also members are actively composing new tunes especially written for PP players and instrumentation.” A taste of the musical menu can be found on a demo CD of four tunes, including covers of “Invitation” and “Lady Bird.” Less than a total of ten minute of music, the CD ripples with energetic teamwork and strong individual voices. Strong melodies from sax and guitar lead the way on “Invitation”; the bluesy “Isotope” does seem a bit radioactive, its dissonant harmonies, angular percussion and snaky sax lines riding above a cool bass running in counterpoint. “Manfredo’s Long Shadow” opens with bass and guitar in tandem; Asche and Brittain trade responsibilities for the melodic virtues, while guitar and percussion inject deep breaths of Brazil. Tad Dameron’s swinging “Lady Bird” soars on Brittain’s dazzling tenor, here fulfilled in about 75 seconds, a coda to a brief but powerful introduction to an ensemble that will hopefully bring playtime to many venues. A night at the Red Sea is a good way to join the fun at Pooch’s Playhouse, this Thursday night at 9.

March 1, 2009