Wednesday night was an evening Jennifer Hartswick won’t forget any time soon and neither will the approximately 300 music fans gathered at Rockwood Music Hall’s Stage #2 in New York City for her show with Nick Cassarino. Hartswick welcomed two of her musical heroes to the stage, as Grammy-winning jazz bassist Christian McBride and Phish frontman Trey Anastasio both sat-in with Jennifer and Nick at the end of the 90-minute performance.
Jennifer’s relationship with Anastasio dates back 20 years. The Vermont native contributed to Phish’s 1998 studio album The Story Of The Ghost, which came out on October 27, 1998. Hartswick went on to join the Trey Anastasio Band in 2001 and has been a key member ever since outside of a few tours. Jennifer met fellow Vermonter Cassarino just two years later. The pair quickly forged a close friendship and became frequent collaborators. Yet, Hartswick became obsessed with the music of Christian McBride, unbeknownst to the jazz musician, as a youngster years before she met Nick and Trey.
Cassarino took the stage in front of a capacity crowd to, in his own words “warm up the crowd for Jennifer.” The Nth Power guitarist/vocalist presented an inspired cover of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Nick has a voice that is oozing with soul and an ability to kick into a fifth gear on guitar where his fingers move at an almost unfathomable quickness. Hartswick then emerged to join Cassarino for a spot-on rendition of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me).” The pair’s chemistry came through from the moment they stood next to each other. Jen and Nick aren’t just incredibly talented musicians, but they are remarkable songwriters who first teamed up to write “Drowning,” the first song off the recently released Nexus played on Wednesday.
The middle of the concert was filled with covers from a range of artists that inspired Hartswick and Cassarino. Hartswick’s massive pipes were on display during covers of Howard Tate’ “You Don’t Know Nothing” and John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.” The duo put their own stamp on the material with arrangements that played perfectly to the format. Next came a bluesy interlude as the Vermont natives paired the standard “Stormy Monday” with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers’ “How Blue Can You Get” before the two ended the guest-less portion of the evening by covering Rihanna’s “Stay.”
Jennifer took a moment after “Stay” to discuss Nexus, which was recorded a few years ago at Anastasio’s The Barn in Westford, Vermont by Hartswick, Cassarino and McBride. The bassist made his way through the crowd and after a few technical difficulties, the trio lit into Nexus standout “Numb.” In looking around during “Numb,” most audience members’ had their eyes on McBride’s upright bass and for good reason. Christian showed why he is one of the best in the business with the inventive bass lines he used to propel the song.
A particularly unusual moment came next as Jennifer Hartswick welcomed Trey Anastasio to the stage. Considering the hundreds of times Anastasio has introduced JHa, it was weird and heartwarming to see Jennifer introduce Trey. “As if it wasn’t special enough to have one musical hero here, I have another one I’ve been working with for 20 years,” Hartswick said with a smile as wide as can be. The first of the three songs the quartet played was Nexus’ lead single “You Can’t Take It Back.” Anastasio used just his Ocedoc guitar and a vintage Fender amp instead of the massive rig he usually employs. He struck the perfect tone for the material, laid back when appropriate and dug in when the time came. The inspired melodies Trey came up with fit the structure of “You Can’t Take It Back” like a glove. Jennifer headed to the side of the stage as Anastasio, McBride and Cassarino exchanged musical ideas. The Phish guitarist played with so much emotion throughout and each note was telegraphed on his face.
Hartswick, Cassarino, Anastasio and McBride went on to perform Nexus ballad “Silent Waves.” Trey isn’t usually in a position to be a sideman, but his contributions were tasteful throughout. Big Red played the vocal melody on guitar to accompany Jennifer’s passionate singing. The quartet finished the evening with a 12+ minute rendition of “Drown In My Own Tears,” a song popularized by Ray Charles. While there was plenty of improv within, it was Hartswick’s singing that was at the heart of what made the cover so special. This was a set that would have been well worth the money without the guest appearances. Yet, getting to see four master musicians perform together for the first time was downright thrilling. Not to mention, it’s not often one gets the chance to watch the Phish frontman play at such a small venue. Anastasio seemed to really enjoy the experience and was in awe of McBride’s insane “Drown In My Own Tears” solo. Jennifer Hartswick sported a huge smile for 90 minutes straight and she wasn’t the one at Rockwood Music Hall who was on cloud nine.
Trey Anastasio, Christian McBride, Jennifer Hartswick & Nick Cassarino You Can’t Take It Back, Silent Waves & Drown In My Own Tears Captured by LazyLightning55
Full Show Video
Set (Jen & Nick except where noted): A Change Is Gonna Come (Just Nick), I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me), Drowning, You Don’t Know Nothing About Love, Angel From Montgomery, Stormy Monday > How Blue Can You Get, Stay, Numb (w/ Christian McBride), You Can’t Take It Back (w/ Christian McBride and Trey Anastasio), Silent Waves (w/ Christian McBride and Trey Anastasio), Drown In My Own Tears (w/ Christian McBride and Trey Anastasio)