Dayton Art Institute
The best jazz has always been about transcending the time and place of the moment with a unique story that captivates the audience. By this definition then, the brilliantly endowed and sadly underrated Andy Bey helped to make time stand still for a large bevy of enthusiasts who attended this rare Stateside appearance in Dayton, the second in a series of three jazz concerts being held at the Dayton Art Institute and hosted by Cityfolk. With two encores and a pair of generous 50 minute sets, Bey and his capable trio presented a marvelous program that appealed not only to recent devotees, but also to those in the crowd who hark back to the days of Andy and the Bey Sisters and sideman appearances with Duke Pearson and Horace Silver.
Although the hall’s acoustics were lively and more suited to smaller chamber groups to be sure, seasoned newcomers Joe Martin on bass and drummer Mark McLean handled themselves remarkably well, with every note clearly audible and the balance between instruments reaching absolute perfection. This was no small task for McLean, who even with sticks managed to stoke a quiet fire that never threatened to overtake the rest of the group. Bey sat at a finely tuned grand piano, his vocal nuances captured in pristine fashion by a top-notch sound crew. With a range that any singer would die for, his flawless intonation and ability to speak with an emotional depth make him one of the great ones and not one bit of the 62-year-old’s polish and shine has faded over the years.
The first set got underway with a slow and sultry version of “Yesterdays.” Like most of the standards performed that evening, Bey managed to tweak things here and there to give each tune a new outlook. “All the Things You Are” picked up the tempo a bit, while giving Bey the opportunity to fully utilize his vocal range. The title track of his upcoming new release, “Tuesdays in Chinatown,” made for an excellent addition to the Bey cannon. Dispensing with the bass and drums, a solo rendition of the Brazilian standard “Like a Lover” preceded a sprightly romp with Martin and McLean, sans piano, on “Straight, No Chaser.” It was here that Bey scatted up a storm, trading phrases with the drums at the tune’s conclusion.
Heading back for the second set, Bey and the trio approached “You’d Be So Nice To Come Home To” via a clever five-note riff that launched each soloist. Both “Start All Over Again” and “Midnight Blue” featured Bey at his vocal best, the former taken at a healthy clip and the latter smoldering at a slow waltz tempo. With a sound as distinctive as Johnny Hodges’ liquid vibrato, Bey gave Billy Strayhorn’s “Blood count” a definitive performance, full of the kind of pathos and vulnerability that mark the piece’s stinging lyrics. Somewhat of a challenge due to its Portuguese lyrics and 5/4 meter, Milton’s Nascimento’s “Exits and Flags” seemed to be an odd choice, yet somehow the trio pulled it off while proving their versatility in the long run. Getting away from the piano to close things once again, the bebop line “Cheryl” found Bey engaging in a “triologue” with Martin and McLean, who both happened to be very impressive in their own solo spots. Following cheers and a standing ovation, Bey concluded the evening by himself, belting out renditions of “Little Girl Blue” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” In the end, one had to wonder why it’s taken so long for Bey to receive the recognition he so richly deserves. The man’s in a class by himself and some of us are still trying to fathom all of the music he had to offer on that cold March evening.