The evening doesn’t get off to a promising start at Else Warehouse for pianist/producer/composer Wenso Ashby’s The Rebirth: Mind, Body & Soul release event and listening party. Not having seen Ashby in ages, I eagerly reach to shake his hand. He grabs mine and literally drags me back to the door — no hello, how’ve you been, nothing — like he’s taking out the trash, sends me back downstairs to wait. No word how long, just go wait.
When I am permitted entrance, at the bar a haughty hostess ignores me. On top of which, the lady a stool over, Cheryl somebody, when I look away, swipes my drink ticket, yet, as we chat, she expects me to write about her musician son. Save the greeter, one gracious Shanté Owens, this ain’t my night.
I circulate, listening to Wenso Ashby featuring Zsamé (premiere singer-songsmith and proverbial vision of loveliness) over a p.a. Usually when the house springs for grub I load up my plate. Not this time. The buffet includes chicken that has you chewing as much fatty skin as meat, tasteless mini-egg rolls and bland peanut butter cookies. The best thing that can be said of the food is it’s free.
Well, you get what you don’t pay for. So much for enjoying a bite to eat, but the music is great. In a word, it raises the bar for Twin Cities smooth jazz/neo-soul. Sweet sensual stuff.
I make the acquaintance of some interesting folk. Most striking is photographer David Bradley, looking the reincarnation of Claude Purdy. Indeed, just as cheerful, and openly frank.
Eventually, he takes a nice shot of me with Zsame, and rescues me when I need a lift. There’s laid back Duane Smith who plays bass on Rebirth. Ashby had an approach for Smith’s contribution. “He wouldn’t show me the music until we go in the studio. He wanted that spontaneity.”
Later, by email, he added, “[It opened] my awareness to precision of creating in the studio and time management. [This] was an excellent opportunity. Wenso was very open… allowing my creativity to shine and take my craft further. Blending into Wenso’s sound was great for my style with the contemporary jazz sound.”
Lady Z treats me to a friendly hug I wish would go on forever, if not longer, then introduces me to family members: her parents (it’s their anniversary), kid sister, Que, Eva, an energetic 15-month-old bundle of joy who has mom as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. We’re on the patio when she tells me the little one has a favorite song by mommy.
“Éva has heard the music and the evolution of the songs from start to finish over the past year. As I would work on the songs in my car, I noticed she would giggle and say ‘mmm’ every time ‘Can’t Turn Away’ would come on.” So, it’s a highly personal night for her, which she caps off at the end of the evening by serenading her parents with a live performance (Ashby on piano) of “For the Love of You” and “No Ordinary Love.”
Zsame signs my CD and I am out of there. All said, the night ends up better than it started. I call it breaking even.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.