NDJ:5 Sybil Houlding

A Man Walks Into a Bar. . .

A man walks into a bar. It’s an old story, but it happens. This man is wearing a tan raincoat, with the collar up, and a gray fedora hat with a wide ribbon and the brim tilted forward. He’s dressed up like—but exactly like—Alain Delon in Melville’s film noir gangster flick Le Samurai.

Paul knows this because he’s recently rented the new, restored, Criterion edition, and to see this guy—it’s almost comical, the 1968 pose, but creepy, too. The man seems unaware of his appearance, but of course that’s part of the look, right? He goes to the bar and orders a coke. Maybe he’s a recovering alcoholic film noir junkie. He takes his drink and stands against the wall. People glance at him, but soon they’re looking at the musicians, who have just taken their places.

This audience is a devoted group of BLYTHE fans. They’ve been following this jazz trio from its first performance in basements and bars in Brooklyn to its current gig at The Reckoning, a small bar and jazz club in Portland. This same group of BYTHE fanatics has recently been at the Blue Note where the band last performed. They’ve got nothing better to do this summer than fly from Manhattan to Portland, coast-to-coast travelers following their bliss. They’ve been written up in JAZZ :yesterdaytodayandtomorrow, online journal of jazz for the hip-hop age listener, but indispensable for the aging bopster as well. On July 18th the copy read,

No longer the exclusive province of Grateful Dead fans, or Ring Cycle patrons, BLYTHE has inspired a small devoted group of followers of their intricate, bop-inflected, Metheny influenced sound—direct heirs to Bill Evans and the narcotized jazz of Sunday at the Village Vanguard and the hottest trio performing in jazz today. This small group of serious jazz freaks have helped put BLYTHE on the map….

Which of course brings a smile to the BLYTHE fans, reading it, who have dumped all their flier miles into tickets for Portland and Santa Fe and Seattle. But while the guy in the outfit is new to this group, they are only mildly aware of his presence. There are a few newcomers to the scene as well, Portland residents who have managed to score tickets to this limited engagement by virtue of their regular patronage at The Reckoning. They are watching Blythe herself, on keyboard— ethereal with her blond, almost white, baby fine hair, barrette on one side, in a reference (or not) to the young Blossom Dearie, wearing her trademark white blouse and black skirt, red lipstick and pumps, as she plays with complete absorption, right now, the opening bars of time after time after time, her most accessible and easily recognized piece. They’re also watching her bassist, Gretchen, a tall, muscular, brown-haired beauty with long thick hair, Elvis Costello glasses, and complete

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A MAN WALKS INTO A BAR.

 

SYBIL HOULDING

concentration, hug her instrument as she weaves in and out of the melody and time changes and surrenders to the music which she is also creating. And they’re also waiting for Tyne to begin his signature riff, slow brushwork followed by the strange, quiet and incredibly fast chops which will glue the piece together, so that the group sounds like they’re transcribing interstellar sighing, a lullaby for these wary young inhabitants of the planet.

A few of the Portland guys in the audience are watching the Samurai guy with his hat, and Paul notices he’s got his hand in his pocket. The word “gun” flits through Paul’s mind. Of course he probably isn’t going to pull out a pistol and shoot Blythe, of course not, but the thought was there, he thought it, and he has to work to decide it’s silly. Paul remembers that in the movie, Delon’s gun was blank, but still, it’s creepy. Of course, in the movie the guy was wearing white gloves. This guy isn’t wearing gloves. But as the music draws him in, Paul forgets the guy with his coke drink and his hand in his pocket, forgets his own drink (a microbrew from Portland Hops!) and he too surrenders to the music—along with Gretchen, and Blythe, and Tyne, and everyone else who has gathered here for this sublime music on this evening in July in the year 2006 at eight o’clock in Portland, Oregon.

The set ends. BLYTHE doesn’t do intermission; they play and then they stop. As the audience is clapping and howling in that cupped-hand way, going “hoo, hoo,” like agitated owls in some primitive need to participate in the sound-making that the music inspires, the guy leaves the wall at the edge of the bar, and Paul’s stomach clenches slightly as he watches the man head straight for Blythe herself. As he removes his hat and stretches out his arms, Paul notices his hair, shoulder length, glowing, and, he can see, now that it’s released from the hat, the same flaxen color as his sister’s hair (for who else could she be? without the hat the resemblance is unmistakable), and the two embrace for a long time, as though she hasn’t seen him since 1968, the year of her birth, and Blythe, tears in her eyes, takes her bow and Gretchen and Tyne bow as well, and Blythe is holding her brother’s hand and looking more radiant and ethereal than ever and she’s smiling and smiling and smiling, as they continue to nod, and bow, and make their way out of the crowd.