Major stages and large audiences are the usual setting for guitarist John Stowell, drummer John Bishop, bassist Jeff Johnson and tenor saxophonist Rick Mandyck. But for their Eugene appearance on Dec. 7, they will be squeezed up against the front window of the downtown Eugene shop Provenance, giving what may be one of their most intimate performances ever. Call this an act of brotherly love. Bishop's sister, Christy Bishop, an avid jazz supporter, owns Provenance. For years, she has had jazz groups perform during the First Friday Art Walk openings. In those ad hoc groups have been many of the Northwest's finest jazz players, often in ensembles organized by brother John of Seattle or brother Todd of Portland, both of whom are outstanding drummers.
The Stowell-Bishop-Johnson- Mandyck quartet is the most esteemed combo to appear so far at Provenance, where the players press together just inside the front door to essentially provide background music during the openings of new exhibits in the downstairs Art Grotto. This is not a club setting, or anything even close. Seating is available for less than a dozen people, leaving the others to stand wherever they can find space. But those willing to brave it can hear first-rate jazz in a relaxed setting, where they need to be oblivious of the gallery-gazers milling about and conversing about the art exhibit. (For the month of December, the artist is Lenoard Whitfield, a Seattle glass blower.)
The Dec. 7 appearance of the Stowell-Bishop-Johnson-Mandyck quartet coincides with the release of the quartet's new CD, "Scenes," (on John Bishop's Origin label) and the start of a brief Northwest tour.
Each of the players comes with impressive credentials: Stowell is probably most noted for his duo work with bassist David Friesen in the 1970s. Their album "Through the Looking Glass" was chosen as one of the 10 best jazz albums of the decade by the Los Angeles Examiner. Now living in Portland, Stowell tours across the United States, Canada and Europe. Johnson has worked with a veritable who's who of great jazz musicians. Since 1991, he has toured and recorded with pianists Jessica Williams and Hal Galper. He also leads his own trio with Billy Mintz and Hans Teuber. Mandyck has developed a distinctive tenor saxophone sound, with influences from John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Cannonball Adderly and Michael Brecker. Born and raised in New York, Mandyck settled in Seattle in the early 1980s, where he soon became a top player in clubs, concerts and recording studios. He was named best Northwest instrumentalist at the 1999 Earshot Jazz Awards. Bishop has been on more than 50 albums and video projects, including sessions with Rudy Van Gelder, Julian Priester, Ralph Towner and Teo Macero and a Grammy-nominated CD with Mark Murphy.
For the past six years, Bishop, Mandyck and Johnson have bonded as a group while playing on Tuesdays at the Old Town Ale House in Seattle. Stowell is the newest member. "His sound and ridiculously original harmonic sense are a great foil for what we've been developing," Bishop said. "So when he called about doing some playing, it seemed like a very correct and natural thing to do." One outgrowth of that union is the CD "Scenes," which Bishop said "was not planned in any way." "We played a couple of times over the course of a few months and then gathered up a few tunes and winged the ones that looked interesting in the studio. We were all very pleased with the shape the music was taking and look forward to pursuing some avenues for presenting it live."
The first of those - and perhaps the most unusual - will be at Provenance.