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An evening of jazz the way it was meant to be -- improvised

The spontaneous creation of music -- jazz, real jazz -- can be magical. Often what we hear in the jazz clubs is a tightly scheduled series of solos -- first the sax, then the piano, then the bass, then the drums -- bookended by the heads of standards that the band plays in order as prescribed by a set list. Yeah, there's jazz in there, sure, but you can hardly call that spontaneity.

Thursday night at the Regattabar was one of those transcendent evenings that can make one realize how ordinary, how formulaic, so much of the rest of today's music has become. Pianist Marc Copland , bassist Gary Peacock , and drummer Bill Stewart created art out of nothing. They arrived without a set list, and some of the tunes weren't even songs; they were sketches composed on the spot through the art of improvisation. It wasn't clear, either, who was leading the group -- the album the trio recently released is under Copland's name, and the concert gave Peacock (the best known of the three) top billing, but it seemed more likely that these guys don't need a leader. No tunes were announced. There was no chatter with the audience. Songs often began with Copland shrugging his shoulders toward Peacock, as if to say, "What do you want to play?" Peacock returned an "I don't know" look and would say aloud, "Start something."

They sure did.

Peacock began the concert with a bluesy, facile solo that launched the trio into an exploratory take of Sonny Rollins's "Doxy" that had the musicians thinking and feeling their way through the tune, Stewart driving the train with his propulsive drumming and Copland spiraling further and further from the theme. They followed it with a free, unnamed improvisation that sounded like a light rain turning into thunder -- brushes on cymbals leading to Copland's thick chords and splashing arpeggios. A lovely ballad called "At Night" that centered on a gentle, eight-note figure was pretty without being precious, and the musicians seemed to surprise themselves by abandoning the softness midway through and taking up a funky groove for maybe 32 bars. They ended the first set with a churning, volatile version of "Stella by Starlight." After the set Copland told me he had never played the song in that particular key before. Yes, that's real jazz for you.

Steve Greenlee can be reached at