With Coffee and a Kiss

Ever notice how various styles of music fit the three requests of the “Serenity Prayer”?

Yes, there are far more than three genres of music, many of them overlapping, but just as three primary colors give us a complete spectrum, so too music:

Classical offers the serenity to rise above a gotta go-go world; rock and roll the courage to confront it; folk the wisdom to understand it.

Such was my thinking after hearing Roger Ebacher’s jazz quartet, Re:Groove, on a night I was determined to put all the concerns of my go-go if not already gone-gone world out of mind. No matter that I left jazz out of those prayed-for qualities, Re:Groove bestows all three while taking you into a relaxed and relaxing world of its own.

This is Latin jazz, Brazilian and Cuban, samba and bossa nova, cha-cha-cha, and it’s easy to forget that you are sitting in a brewpub in downtown Haverhill and imagine yourself instead on a Caribbean beach. It’s just as easy to filter out the din from the bar in the next room while four musicians turn their featured passages into stories that captivate from their opening chords to the notes that return to the full combo.

All of them have a few, complementing Ebacher’s signature melody flute on the lead of most tunes, all of them articulated so fluidly and clearly that Herbie Hancock would be proud to have his name on “Herbally,” Ebacher’s tribute to him.

Michael Shea’s keyboard sizzles on “Down to My Very Last Dream,” a composition by legendary Newburyporter Charles Bechler and his sometime collaborator Ed White. Lionel Girardeau’s bass swaggers through Ebacher’s enigmatic “Three in the Afternoon.” And percussionist Michael Wingfield dances all ten fingers in a mesmerizing solo over four congas–at one point bouncing a closed fist for comic relief–in a joyous piece Ebacher titled “Zola.”

Let me disclose here that I’ve known Ebacher since the 1980s when our daughters were both in a children’s play produced by Newburyport’s Theater in the Open. I’ve heard him in jam sessions and I’ve heard his recordings, but apparently not enough to know that he’s a vocalist as well as a flautist and percussionist.

The songs he sings are his own, and are just right for his across-the-cabana voice. “What the World Is Coming To” hints at topical subjects:

Faster and faster

Everything’s spinning

Seems like we’re losing control

Life is a game, but nobody’s winning

Better hold on to your soul

That one and a sky-kissing, yet still determined “This Time Around” are just enough to remind us that this is a night off from any woes of the world as Ebacher reassures us in his most charming “Coffee and a Kiss”:

There’s nothing better

I can tell you this

And if you leave me

That’s what I’ll miss

Your coffee and your kiss

Charming becomes disarming when the band takes it up an octave leading into “Welcome Home,” a vibrant melody that Ebacher composed in a rhythm of Mozambique to highlight the chops of both Shea and Girardeau.

Re:Groove plays all tempos, effortlessly kept and shifted by Wingfield’s congas occasionally abetted by a pair of bongos and various shakers Ebacher keeps in front of himself. Among the more sentimental tunes is “Missing Rio” which he imagined on a flight out of “The Marvelous City.” Though Latin, an unmistakable feel of departure turned back my own musical clock to missing Denver even if I was well more than a mile high.

Yes, I heard them in The Tap in Haverhill, which hosts jazz every Sunday night, 6:00 to 9:00, and Re:Groove will be back likely in October. But this is a Newburyport-based band formed by Ebacher, a Port native–as is Wingfield–with a keen regard for this city’s musical history.

In addition to Bechler’s “Very Last Dream,” we also hear “Plum Island,” a samba composed by another local legend, world-renowned saxophonist Charlie Mariano. Bechler and Mariano who, in Ebacher’s words:

… were band mates in the seminal psych/jazz/rock group Osmosis, who opened for Miles Davis, Frank Zappa, and the Grateful Dead in the early 70s, just a few years before my tenure in the Charles Bechler Group.

To complete the tribute, Ebacher plays “Plum Island” on a Casio DH -100 digital horn, which I’d rather call a melody sax in keeping with the melody flute.

But then, why fit labels and categories when the music offers every color and answers every prayer whether you asked or not?


Roger playing “Plum Island,” composed by the late, great saxophonist Charlie Mariano. The Plum Island motto appears on the wall over keyboardist Michael Shea’s left shoulder.
Please enter our Mouth of the River poll: “Melody Sax” or “Casio DH -100 digital horn.” Deadline is midnight, August 1. Members of the band may not enter. No write-ins. Choose wisely!
Re:Groove at The Tap in Haverhill, July 24, L2R: Michael Shea on keyboard, Roger Ebacher on melody flute, Lionel Girardeau on bass, and Michael Wingfield on congas.
All photos courtesy of Jazz at the Tap

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