Will the Kjeer trio play soon “Undreampt” compositions during Saturday Night Jazz at The Black Dog

By Bill Stieger

Any local jazz fan who hasn’t had the pleasure of hearing pianist Will Kjeer is forewarned: come out and see this up-and-coming artist while he’s still planted in the Twin Towns. Because all the local musicians agree – Kjeer is a performer on the rise. And you never know how long a musical gem of this caliber can stay in this bailiwick of the Twin Cities.

Kjeer (pronounced “Keyer”) is a St. Paul native who graduated from Cal-Arts in 2019, and had performed and taught in Los Angeles, establishing his name and building his resume, but that was before the Coronavirus onslaught. Kjeer returned to his St. Paul home in West 7th Quarter, polishing his chops, playing festivals (his appearance with tenor giant Jerry Bergonzi at Crooners was a recent highlight), conducting jam sessions and broadcasting online. Kjeer will perform selections from his upcoming CD, “Undreampt”, in the Saturday Night Jazz at the Black Dog series on Saturday August 7, in a trio with bassist Charlie Lincoln and drummer Dave King. It’s all happening on Saturday at the Black Dog Cafe in Lower Town, Saint Paul, as part of a weekly series curated by Steve Kenny. See the following MinnPost Articthe on the reopening of the series: here

“I didn’t want to endure the lockdown in Los Angeles,” said Kjeer, 24, explaining his return to Minnesota. “Without being able to work and having to pay the rent in California, it was an easy decision to go back to Minnesota and get out of this thing. And frankly, I’ve been so busy here, both performing and recording, that whether I’ll go back to LA is an open question.

For now, Kjeer is planted with his mother in West 7th Ward. He remains busy practicing the piano, composing and leading jam sessions. Now, with the sites reopening, Kjeer is receiving more bookings and planning the release of “Undreampt” (no release date has been set yet).

“I wrote all the tracks on the recording but I also see it as a collaboration with Charlie and Dave. They added so much flavor to the tunes. Dave is an established drummer who has performed and recorded with many of the best musicians from creative music Charlie and I plan to work with Dave on a masters program, an apprenticeship that demands the best of us.

King’s eclectic drums encompass almost every rhythmic style – jazz, Latin, funk, rock and punk. He first made a name for himself with the bands Happy Apple and The Bad Plus, and toured consistently for years. Like Will, the pandemic anchored King in the Twin Cities during the pandemic. And the confinement allowed the trio to return to the studio.

“I met Will at a summer workshop at McPhail School of Music in St Paul,” King said. “Will stood out for me even then,” King said. “He was talented, but even better, I could tell he was serious about his game. Best of all, he had a humble demeanor which I found refreshing for a young player. When I visited the house, I often saw Will perform at the Artists Quarter or the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. He had come to our Bad Plus appearances when we played LA during his collegeyears, and we have stayed in touch. Will is definitely progressing.

Training a good jazz musician is almost a recipe. It begins with a first exposure to music. Kjeer grew up listening to jazz in the much-missed Kenny Horst Artist Quarter, which gave the youngster exposure to prominent musicians of local and national stature. Former QA owner Kenny Horst is Will’s uncle. He said Will’s determination started early.

“Will’s mother called me one day and said, ‘Will wants to be a jazz musician.’ Horst said. “She didn’t say Will wanted to try playing jazz. No. She said Will wanted to BE a jazz musician. It was his attitude from the start. She told me that Will made the decision to listen to Vince Guaraldi on the Peanuts cartoon soundtrack.

During his high school years, Kjeer held the keys to the Dakota Combo, which gives young talent an experience by performing at venues like the Dakota Jazz Club. And he started to sit in the Artists Quarter and play for the Twin Cities Jazz Festival. By the time he shipped to Cal-Arts, Will was of professional caliber.

Bassist Charlie Lincoln, 23, is a contemporary of Will, a phenomenal young double bass player who has always worked with the pianist. He offered his contribution to Will’s style of play and composition. “Will always challenges himself, pushing his own limits. Sometimes you can say that he thinks too much about a passage, but when he gets past all that, he is a formidable artist. And the music on the trio record is not easy to play. Few standard forms are used. The graphics can be intimidating, but Dave suggested that we learn the tunes by ear, without reading the parts. It was a challenge. But it really opened up to us.

The music is difficult to describe with precision. But to take a few wobbles in that direction, you could say that “Undreampt” is an okra of modern jazz styles. We are tempted to use nicknames like “Post-post-bop” and other similar offerings. Some passages recall the groups of Keith Jarret in the 1970s, Chick Corea from “Now He Sings, Now He Sobs”, or perhaps some of the Israeli notables like Brad Meldau, Anat Fort, or both Avaishi Cohens. Classical influences, especially in the composition, seem obvious. A certain consistency in Kjeer’s “Undreamt” is that the music is constantly changing.

The recording begins with “Arrival”, which launches into a looping vamp monk, the guess it’s 5/4, but Kjeer was no help. “The sentence is the thing,” he said. “As Miles Davis says, ‘I’ll play it and tell you what it is later.’” The theme runs through a series of abstractions, roughly in ABC form, with King juggling rhythmic pauses with the precision of a throwing circus knife, which knows the need for perfection.

“Bound” begins with a dense, turgid intro that pours into a simple theme, then weaves its way through peaks and valleys, while maintaining the line behind King and Will’s drums holding the harmonic center. Lincoln plays a wonderful solo – the boy has the tone – while Will assists with the accompaniment. There seems to be some sort of musical radar that keeps the trio on fire. King goes wild over the chorus, and a listener might wonder why “Bound” has to end after just five minutes. They were just getting started.

“Breath in Flight” is the craziest race of the group. A furious attack from Kjeer in a difficult-to-analyze time signature that launches this musical rocket higher than Bezos will ever go. Simplicity and Refinement come together on this one. Lincoln holds the center in the floating midsection, and then, here it is, a free upgrade tornado that brings you back to the theme.

“Current” begins as one of Chick Corea’s 70s samba recordings, with a more Spanish (Andalusian) than Brazilian touch. But, as in all of Kjeer’s other compositions, “Current cavers without sounding forced or laborious. Its transitions flow like the changing sight of a train in the Alps, changes that make the journey all the more intriguing. A simple waltz suddenly emerges as if it were a Disney movie, followed by a section that is both lyrical and spatial that connects into a magnificent melodic passage that uplifts the listener in a place that the one could – at the risk of sounding suspicious – call it a “spiritual reverie.”

“Dragon” recalls the vibe of McCoy Tyner’s album “Trident”, with its open pedal and King’s mambo reveries on cymbals and toms. Drummer Elvin Jones led the beat on “Trident”, and Elvin’s shattering accompaniment is mirrored by King on “Dragon”. Then comes the arrival of an implicit funk groove. Lincoln is wonderful in this section, dancing between drums and piano with certainty. A thunderstorm of free improvement ensues with King and Kjeer clashing like Frazier and Ali. “Dragons” gives the listener the impression that their feet are about to leave the ground.

“I’ll be leaving soon,” is a nice break from the uproar. “It kind of reflects the moves I’ve made in recent years – to and from Los Angeles,” Kjeer said. “And of course explore new places both artistically and geographically. There is often happiness and sadness mixed in these times, and that’s what I was thinking about here.

“Rabbit” has a three-way round trip that breaks into an open section. King plays a frenzied 6/8 reminiscent of Jimmy Hendrix’s “Manic Depression”, as if Mitch Mitchell had studied drums with Eric Gravatt of Weather Report. The ending has a series of sudden stops in the middle of the shootout, all landing with pinpoint precision. Kjeer’s inspirational piece leaves the listener asking for more.

“Wildfire” is the warm-up of “Undreamt”, a magnificent ballad that you can listen to in the dark without feeling alone. “Wildfire” calms the nerves. It’s Will speaking. Then Lincoln comes in and plays the second section almost in tandem with the piano, then solo with Kjeer’s accompaniment. King assists on the brushes, is content to support and embellish. Play this one a second time. Better than a glass of scotch.

About Madeline J. Carter

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