Mercy Project explores jazz

By Marcus Campbell

On Friday, April 17, Lawrence University’s Performing Arts at Lawrence jazz series continued with a performance by Jon Cowherd and his Mercy Project. The Performing Arts at Lawrence jazz series is a program featuring jazz musicians from around the nation performing on campus for both the campus community and the greater Fox Cities community at large.

Cowherd, born in Kentucky, became interested in music at an early age. He learned to play the piano, French horn and violin. He sung as well. He moved to New Orleans to attend college and studied jazz piano under established jazz greats, such as Ellis Marsalis and John Mahoney. While in New Orleans, Cowherd formed a partnership with drummer Brian Blade, who plays the drums in Cowherd’s latest album and Friday performance, “Mercy.” The two formed their first band, called the Brian Blade Fellowship, in 1997.

In 1993, Cowherd moved to New York City and received his masters degree in jazz studies from the Manhattan School of Music. Cowherd has worked with a number of well-known jazz artists, including Cassandra Wilson, Rosanne Cash, Iggy Pop, Chaka Khan and Joni Mitchell. In his role as a producer, he oversees albums by Lizz Wright, Alyssa Graham and The Local NYC.

“Mercy” is Jon Cowherd’s first album under his own name as band leader. The album features strong musical talents with drummer Blade, and fellow New York jazz artists Steve Cardenas playing the guitar and Tony Scherr playing the upright bass. Cowherd completes the quartet as keyboardist.

Lawrence Memorial Chapel turned out to be the perfect venue for the quartet. The moderate attendance allowed listeners to come in close to the stage. This intimacy, combined with the chapel’s natural acoustics and lighting made for a wonderful, melodic evening event.

All who were present seemed to be enjoying themselves, from the children with their parents to the Lawrence students and the senior citizens. Even the musicians were not static figures, allowing their emotions to show in their music. When the instrumentalists became extremely involved in their music, they would shout and shake their heads. These weren’t people playing something they’d played a dozen times reading off of their sheet music; these were artists starting from their sheets and letting the music take them to a far away place.

I can’t put my finger on a tangible explanation, but the heart and soul put into the music made it palpably different. Time went away, individual melodies were indiscernible. It was simply music. Jon Cowherd and the Mercy Project made for an enjoyable evening. The next installment of the Jazz Series, the Robert Glasper Trio, on Friday, May 1.