Seasonal mix: Ho-ho-ho'ing around the town

Jeff Decker Quartet at Miller's
Jamal Millner at the Outback
Jay Pun at Michael's Bistro
Wednesday, December 15

On December 15 at Miller's the smoke was pretty damn bad. Luckily, the music was pretty damn good.

Through the large glass windows, I could see men wearing long black coats leaving opening night at the Paramount Theater, accompanied by women in expensive jewelry and cashmere coats. Up on the stage the Jeff Decker Quartet seemed oblivious the less upscale crowd coming in to escape the cold.

Jeff plays a three-minute solo on his tenor sax, with flawless runs up and down the scales. I follow the metronome in his head with my foot, tapping, peering through the haze as the other band members hunch over their instruments patiently waiting for their cue. When it comes, the guitar, bass, and drums slide into a swing so naturally, you can barely feel the vibe change.

Eat your heart out, Tony Bennett. Jeff Decker Quartet for no cover charge, or Tony at the Paramount for a $250 a pop? I'm ashamed I even have to ask the question.

Conversation at my table turns to my favorite subject: hip hop music. I put my two cents in, then head out the door. The Outback Lodge has always had an air of mischievousness, and I found myself involuntarily drawn in around midnight, as Jamal Millner is hosting his blues jam. I was psyched to see Ezra Hamilton adding his vocals and acoustic guitar to the mix and Will Coles laying down his heavy on drums.

Unfortunately, I caught only the last jam– a cross between a gospel shout session and rocking blues. I scurry out the door to a spot I knew would be rocking till last call.

Michael's Bistro is a place that just does it right, but I was irked that The Hook published a full article on Jay Pun before I had featured him in my prowl. How can I call myself hip to the scene and not have been the first to expose this really cool cat who seems to never carry a chip?

His music forces you to come out of your world into his. It helps that his partner in crime (PIC), violinist Morwena, is nothing short of awe inspiring. On a cold Wednesday before a thinning crowd, they dug into an experimentation set with local drum legend Johnny Gilmore.

It had its choppy moments and moments of absolute clarity. In between you could get lost in the layers created by Jay's guitar and Morwena's violin... that violin transfixed my eyes on fingers moving like the footwork of a member of NY's Rocksteady Crew.

Break dancing. Breaking down rhythms, subdividing with scratches and heart-stealing tremolo. To everyone's delight, they played until last call, finishing with a reflective number featuring my Hook PIC Vijith Assar on Chapman stick.

The addition of The Stick to Pun's sound was inspired. The tease was nice, but I'd like to see more. Heading home with the 2am crowd, smelling like smoke, I drifted back into holiday mode. Christmas lights illuminated the road back to my crib. What a way to start the holiday... but I think I forgot to tip the bartender.

Morwena, Johnny Gilmore and Jay Pun at Michael's