It’s been said time and again: the Philly jazz scene is dead. Proof? Last year, Chris’ Jazz Cafe, what should probably be known as THE Philadelphia jazz club, equivocated on a name change with the hopes of drawing larger audiences. Even the best home-grown artists have been known to relocate to Brooklyn in the pursuit of a feasible jazz career. But jazz in Philadelphia is not dead. What I saw last night at the Philadelphia Art Alliance convinced me of it. In fact, it’s very much alive.
In an unlikely marriage of the visual and performing arts, French brothers Zach and Axel Mathieu-Mathias (the former a jazz drummer, the latter a painter) curated “Two Arts – One Story”, an evening of jazz and live painting. Zach has been drumming since his toddler years, and moved to Philadelphia in 2012 to form his own jazz combo, the Zach MAMA Motherhood Band. Featuring predominantly original compositions by Zach and trumpeter Dan Nissenbaum, the sextet dug into 90 minutes of jazz that was at once notably diversified in style and distinctly unique in identity. Several songs, including the all-too-familiar “La Vie En Rose” and Zach’s own “Pork Wapa” (a knock on the classic American mispronunciation of “Pourquoi Pas?”), were infused with Franco-American flavor unique to the Mathieu-Mathias brothers. “Lighthouse”, a Nissenbaum original, evolved into an in-the-pocket hip-hop groove of which Philly’s own Questlove would be proud. At one point, I felt like I could have been down in New Orleans listening to the Rebirth Brass Band. But I wasn’t. I was in Philadelphia, listening to great jazz.