Saturday evening, the Roe Bickley Kramer Trio, an Ann Arbor-based jazz combo, gathered, masked and distanced at the Kerrytown Concert House, a venue for musical artists and ensembles local to Ann Arbor and beyond. The occasion: “Live @ The 415,” a live stream concert series that KCH broadcasts weekly on their website.
With Rick Roe at the Steinway piano, Rob Bickley on bass and Jesse Kramer on drums, the Trio played original arrangements of a sampling of Disney classics, from “Beauty and the Beast” to “Part of Your World.” Beloved as these numbers are, the event description assured an intriguing reinterpretation: “The Trio takes these songs to exciting, beautiful and unexpected places.”
As promised, while listening to their jazzy Disney renditions, I traveled, sonically, to visit some of my favorite Disney characters (albeit in settings markedly different than their castles). As the performance began, so did the journey — I closed my eyes to welcome both.
First stop: “A Whole New World,” the quintessential love song from “Aladdin.” By the Trio’s interpretation, the song was still a ballad, but with a sexy beat and a jazzy crunch to the chords. Instead of soaring through the clouds, it was like Aladdin and Jasmine were dancing a soft samba step atop their magic carpet, still mid-air, but floating calmly beneath the moon. At the second chorus, Bickley took a long bass solo, sliding his fingers up and down the fingerboard, embellishing the melody with soulful, improvised additions.
“Beauty and the Beast” is the wholesome debut of Belle and the Beast’s romance in “Beauty and the Beast.” But when the Trio played it, it was suddenly the sultry soundtrack to a candlelit tête-à-tête, as if Belle and the Beast had skipped out on their iconic first dance to instead have an intimate nightcap at some cocktail lounge near the castle.
From the Trio’s version of “For the First Time in Forever,” a joyful number from the movie “Frozen,” I got an unmistakable video game vibe. The upbeat tempo and staccato piano melody were reminiscent of a Disney-fied “Mario Kart” theme. In my mind, rather than frolicking around her castle on foot, Elsa raced around it in a colorful motorcycle, tossing a red shell at Yoshi as he zoomed by. At the song’s bridge, the Trio briefly transitioned to more of a relaxed, pensive “Legend of Zelda” feel, before closing out with Mario and friends once more.
In “Part of Your World,” Ariel’s ballad in “The Little Mermaid,” Ariel sings of a deep longing to flee the sea and live on land. Listening to the Roe Bickley Kramer rendition, I had a vivid image in my mind: Ariel was already “where the people are,” and that meant onstage, at a jazz club, twirling her mic stand in a circle, scatting smoothly. Her audience was entranced, the floor full of dancing couples, swaying slowly, exchanging whispered sweet nothings. Ariel winks at a young sailor standing at the back of the room. As the Trio ended their arrangement, Kramer shimmered the cymbals, Roe tickled singular piano keys, higher and higher in pitch until the notes — like the jazz bar scene in my head — faded into stardust.
The Trio transformed several more Disney favorites. Picture “The Force,” the classic, horn-heavy theme to “Star Wars,” made boozy; “Belle,” the exciting opening number to the original “Beauty and the Beast,” made moody; “I See Now,” a romantic duet in a lantern-lit canoe in “Tangled,” made crunchy and ominous. Bickley addressed this last arrangement dryly: “We’ve tangled up the harmony a little bit.”
After an upbeat and largely improvised arrangement of “One Jump Ahead” from “Aladdin,” the performance came to an end. I opened my eyes. Sambaing Aladdin and Jasmine, chatting Belle and the Beast, scatting Ariel and Mario Kart-racing Elsa — they all dissolved, and in their place were Roe, Bickley and Kramer, each of them masked, jeaned and blazered, nodding their heads to a virtual audience.
With this program of classics, the Trio invited listeners to imagine. For me, this imagination was coupled with a rosy nostalgia for VHS tapes, stove-popped popcorn and one too many run-ins with Jafar in my nightmares. Even though there were no vocals, I found myself singing along from my bedroom desk.
More than anything, the Roe Bickley Kramer Trio was easy to enjoy and a delight to Disney-lovers and general listeners alike.
Daily Arts Writer Gigi Guida can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.