January 21, 2010


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Improv Wednesdays at Estabrook
Maiden-Capable plays jazz, but they can rock when they want to
By Michael Witthaus music@hippopress.com

Jazz and dinner go together like scotch and soda. In the case of Estabrook Grill, perhaps chicken and pepperoni — key ingredients in the Nashua dining spot’s Tuscan chicken sandwich — make a better analogy.

Estabrook’s culinary pedigree set it apart when the restaurant opened last spring: comfort food with flair, affordable yet upscale home cooking. The restaurant has taken a similarly unique approach to live music.

Maiden-Capable, the regular Wednesday night band at Estabrook, favors free-form improvisational flights, with Justin Piper stitching ferocious guitar licks over Peter Maclean’s polyrhythmic drumming.

When Kevin O’Brien holds down the rhythm, it’s on electric bass, not upright.

The trio’s roots are in rock music. Piper and O’Brien regularly play classic rock with Mindseye down the street at Peddler’s Daughter, and “Maiden-Capable” is a nod to heavy metal band Iron Maiden’s signature way of ending songs.

They’d been playing without a name since September, but when Chris Caisse took over day-to-day management at Estabrook, they decided to have some fun with him.

“Chris is a guitar player; he knows that all of us play rock and all different kinds of music,” O’Brien said. “He thinks that we’re saying yeah, we do the jazz thing, but we’re Maiden capable — as in we play loud music.”

But O’Brien has long wanted to play improvisational jazz, and he’s very excited about the band’s musical direction.

“Justin Piper is an amazing musician, really of all styles, and just a phenomenal player,” he said. “Peter Maclean is an insane drummer. I’ve been a big fan of all their projects. It was great to have an opportunity to get these guys together and play with them.”

Maiden-Capable sticks to jazz-based music, but as the night progresses, the energy level grows. Second sets (the band plays from 6 to 9:30 p.m.) frequently attract patrons who order beer and appetizers and park themselves close to the music.

“We start the night with some straight-ahead stuff and keep it quiet so people can talk, but it’s not really smooth jazz, it has blues changes and some bop stuff,” O’Brien said. “Then we’ll pick it up and play kind of funk, soul and even a little fusion-y stuff towards the end of the evening.”

Their song list draws from an eclectic array of influences, including traditional players like Sonny Rollins and Joe Henderson, Pat Metheny’s brand of jazz-fusion and pop tunes done with an instrumental spin. O’Brien says they’re working on a few Beatles arrangements and a cover of Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.”

It’s not your father’s jazz, to say the least, and tunes by edgier modernists like John Scofield are consistent crowd-pleasers. 

This suits the new Estabrook Grill general manager perfectly. 

The band is bringing in more people on Wednesdays,” said Caisse, who worked in an advertising and marketing role for the restaurant over the past 18 months before taking over in November. Caisse also manages the Estabrook residential building.

“Not every night’s killer, but you build on the numbers,” Caisse said. “We need to get the word out. With the new year here, that’s what we’re going to do.”

He has plans for the band to play on restaurant’s patio in the spring.

The Wednesday night crowd is a mix of tenants, friends and family of the band, and after-work clientele, Caisse said, and when patrons learn about the weekly music, they make a point of checking it out: “Those people are coming in specifically for the music and we’re trying to give them specials” — food and drink deals, Michelob Girls appearances — “to keep them coming back.”

Where: Estabrook Grill, 57 Palm St., Nashua, 943-5035
When: Wednesdays, 6:30-9:30 p.m.
Info: www.justinpiper.com