Two Linked by Humor and Lapped by Rock
By BEN RATLIFF, New York Times
Published: August 20, 1996
There was an agreeable lesson on Sunday afternoon in the fine distinctions between rock and jazz esthetics at the Brooklyn Museum's sculpture garden. The teachers were Terry Adams, shaggy-haired keyboardist from the peripatetic American roots-music band NRBQ, and Marshall Allen, the alto saxophonist and flutist who leads the Sun Ra Arkestra and wears the Arkestra's trademark gold-and-red sequined skullcap even on side projects like this one.
The duo wasn't a concert producer's off-the-wall notion. They have recorded together, on Mr. Adams's most recent album. They've both traveled for decades with indefinable pan-stylistic bands. They're both humorists, and this was their common ground and their point of departure. Mr. Adams, who is used to being heard over a rock group, cannot approach a piano without wanting to bang it. His sensibility is hammy flamboyance with jazz-canon knowledge: Erroll Garner as filtered through Jerry Lee Lewis. Mr. Allen's approach is slier and more nuanced, taking in the smooth glissandos of Johnny Hodges, as well as the hard-driving, self-contained Chicago R-&-B style and the squeal of free jazz.
Their set included ''Thinking of You,'' a Thelonious Monk-like ballad by Mr. Adams; Sun Ra's ''Interstellar Low Ways'' and a raft of standards. Duke Ellington's ''Prelude to a Kiss,'' a song Mr. Allen has probably played thousands of times, succinctly conveyed the pair's humor and disparate musical attitudes. After a comically florid and impertinent piano introduction, Mr. Allen stated the creamy melody outright, then both men spent lavish care on microscopic corners of the song.
Back into the melody, just before the resolution, Mr. Allen took his time with a deliciously shrill shriek -- serious stuff now, not mere jokery -- and had to catch up by cramming the end into one claustrophobic bar of music. Mr. Adams feigned boredom with the finale, his left elbow leaning on the top of the piano, his right hand picking out the final chords in a desultory anticlimax.
The museum's jazz-duet series concludes on Sunday at 3 P.M. with a collaboration between Jackie McLean, the alto saxophonist, and Michael Carvin, the drummer.