February 2007

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NEA Jazz Masters at IAJE

At a ceremony resembling the Emmys or Grammys, flash bulbs blinded the 2007 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters as each was announced at the annual event on the penultimate night of the four-day IAJE Jazz Conference (Jan. 12th). This year's class: bandleader/arranger Toshiko Akiyoshi, trombonist Curtis Fuller, pianist Ramsey Lewis, altoist Phil Woods, tenor saxophonist/flutist Frank Wess and vocalist Jimmy Scott (appropriately given the award by Nancy Wilson, his greatest protegé). The AB Spellman for Jazz Advocacy Award went to Rutgers University's Dan Morgenstern.

Heavy hitting hard bop was generously interspersed care of the Clayton Brothers Quintet featuring Terell Stafford (trumpet) and Obed Calvaire (drums). Bassist John paid tribute to his mentor, the late Ray Brown, in an unaccompanied arco rendition of "Round Midnight ; altoist Jeff with Stafford summoned the brothers Adderley on "Blow Your Horn and featured the youngest Clayton band member Gerald on piano. The Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Alumni Big Band with Slide Hampton conducting featured a glittering cast of soloists, as well as vocalists Nancy Wilson ("Old Folks and "Day In Day Out ) and Roberta Gambarini, the latter having risen in rank to become one of today's finest. Her succinct but mesmerizing "Stardust exchange with Hampton (trombone) segued to one of many evening highlights, a memorable scatting duo with octogenarian James Moody.

Joe McPhee and TrioX at Vision Club

Last month's week-long Dance NOW Music! at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center was the second of four months of jazz/improv musicians collaborating with dancers, as presented by Vision Festival founder Patricia Nicholson Parker. A neglected master of the soprano sax, Joe McPhee, was featured in the final two (of four) sets Jan. 19th with only the glistening of his straight horn noticeable in the shadows as he accompanied dancer Gloria McLean's sometimes flitting, other times super-pliable movements. At set's end, he shuffled his way to the stage's fore for a moving rendition of John Coltrane's "After The Rain (dedicated to the recently departed Alice Coltrane), leaving rests for McLean, whose noiseless movements provided an unexpected and special musical discussion.

It was the closing set with TrioX (sans dancer) that provided the night's most sublime movements, within the familiar framework of "Stella By Starlight," Monk's "Evidence and Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman." The threesome—McPhee, bassist Dominic Duval and drummer Jay Rosen— thankfully made their set resonate acoustically, and Rosen's pared-down kit of floor tom, ride cymbal, hi-hat and snare (almost exclusively played on brushes) was appropriate during his unaccompanied tribute to Max Roach, the original "North Star . The group's subtle empathy revealed a musicality extending in time far past its late '90s inception.

~ Laurence Donohue-Greene

Han Bennink and Friends at Tonic

To the extent that such terms are even relevant, Dutch drummer Han Bennink is the consummate "sideman." He's enormously capable of backing, breathing life into and, given a smidgeon of a chance, overshadowing anyone he shares a stage with. But he's not often a bandleader, which was a large part of the intrigue Jan. 9th-10th at Tonic. Moreover, he was not just a leader but host to a succession of lineups and welcome musical guests.

Where it can sometimes be a compromise to see a player from another country with a pickup band, for Bennink it was a musical roast. He thrives on spontaneous meetings and across four sets got plenty of them.

Traveling with him was the Dutch trumpeter Thomas Herberer and the Belgian reed player Joachim Badenhorst, who collaborated in various configurations (not all including Bennink) with a strong selection of New Yorkers: Anthony Coleman (piano), Dave Douglas (trumpet), Ellery Eskelin (sax), Brad Jones (bass) and Marcus Rojas (tuba). The electricity of in-the- moment creation permeated the packed room both nights, but Bennink seemed happier the more traditional things got, climaxing with Jelly Roll Morton Tuesday night and Monk on Wednesday. He's plenty inventive doing extended improv, but a smile stretches across his face when he swings. From a listener's perspective, the strongest part both nights was Bennink's duos with Coleman. Their common playfulness and knowledge of jazz crystallized into memorably luminous moments on both nights.

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