The recent album from Dave Burrell, pianist for several giants of the free-jazz movement of the 1960s, and bassist Tyrone Brown taps into a more traditional side of jazz, covering Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Clifford Brown, among others. Their first set at the Jazz Bakery tapped into both of their worlds — a half-hour of freewheeling improvisation, a spry reading of Irving Berlin’s “They Say It’s Wonderful” and then a light-hearted, stride-influenced rendition of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” that alerted the small audience to the breadth of Burrell’s talents.
Burrell, 61, has long been a side man to adventurous players such as saxophonists Archie Shepp and David Murray, and the untethered spirit of their music drove his composition “Word on the Street.” It was difficult to distinguish where composition ended and improv began, since he never returned to any of the piece’s dominant figures; he worked the extremes of keyboard before Brown established a dialogue, initially through Burrell’s harsh, three-chords-in-a-row pounding and Brown’s zippy walking bass.
They met and split apart and joined together again, Burrell balancing his more jagged segments with some absolutely beautiful and picturesque interludes, Brown complementing more than taking his own distinct path. They played the Berlin piece in a similar fashion, displaying the number’s perky tenor and then deconstructing it. A bit illogical at first, Burrell corralled the wildness and brought it home with Brown in stride. “Giant Steps,” in a version that could have come from a player piano, closed the evening with a smile.