July 2005

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At the new and thoroughly spruced-up Smalls, tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen chaired a productive meeting with pianist George Burton, bassist Joseph Lepore and drummer Damion Reid (June 11; bassist Chris Lightcap subbed on June 10). This was fierce, hard-bitten stuff and when Allen blew, Burton usually gave him the field and did not comp. The tempos were mostly up, the tunes sparse; one was simply a four-bar loop that yielded endless, swinging variations. Another was a bright Tyner-esque blues and the parting shot was a reshaped fragment of "Mr. P.C. At least two of the numbers began with rubato themes, precisely executed. With his burly sound and post-Trane harmonic sense, Allen managed to seize the attention of a fairly chatty crowd, at times leaping effortlessly to a higher register to drive home his point. Burton weighed in with several fine solos and was unafraid to let bars and bars elapse before making his move. (One yearned to hear him on a better piano.) Lepore was solid, if a bit low in the mix. But the biggest applause went up for Damion Reid, who filled space aggressively and swung the entire quartet into tomorrow.

During his third annual duo series at Jazz Standard, pianist Fred Hersch embarked upon his first-ever playing experience with Bob Brookmeyer (June 9). Those who've heard One Night In Vermont (Planet Arts), Brookmeyer's duo encounter with pianist Ted Rosenthal, are aware of the melodic purity that the master valve trombonist can achieve in this quiet setting. The Hersch/Brookmeyer duets, too, were all standards and they reached a consistently high level of inspiration, beginning with "Who Cares? Extending the Gershwin theme (and the "question theme) with "How Long Has This Been Going On? , Hersch improvised the kind of sultry big-band shout chorus that could have come from Brookmeyer's pen. At this subtle gesture and many others, Brookmeyer looked toward the keyboard and grinned. His horn was gentle in tone, rich in melodic narrative, exacting in its rhythmic and harmonic control. Hersch's musings were expansive, orchestral, full of spontaneity; Brookmeyer followed him through tricky curves and displacements on "Taking a Chance on Love, a slow "Someday My Prince Will Come, a bright "All Blues, a ruminative "Everything Happens to Me and an upbeat "The Song Is You. (Hersch's other duo partners for the week were Chris Potter, Ted Nash, Stefon Harris, Kate McGarry and Mark Turner.)

~ David Adler

The last day of May was the first of a weeklong residency at Dizzy's Club for the Heath Brothers, performing for the first time in NYC without eldest brother Percy, who passed away in April. Saxophonist Jimmy and youngest brother Albert "Tootie (celebrating septuagenarian status that day) carried on the Heath Brothers tradition in their inimitably swinging jovial fashion with veteran bassist Paul West and two youngsters whose mature sound belied their age: longtime Heaths' pianist Jeb Patton and guest trumpeter Sean Jones. Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama island rhythms showcased Jones' fiery trumpeting, while Jimmy's more controlled, though no less adventurous, solo provided an ideal foil. Patton's two-handed solo recalled Phineas Newborn, while Tootie's rhythms were syncopated, highly improvisational and the backbone for the tune's danceable meter. "Gingerbread Boy, Jimmy's best known composition (recorded by Miles, Jimmy joked, "That's good for my pockets! ), opened with extended unaccompanied drums. Patton surprisingly broke into a stride break, receiving thunderous applause. The sole ballad, "You've Changed, offered a gentler side to the dynamic Jones who delicately blew as if utilizing a mute. His spotlight on the closer, "Bags' Groove, emphasized spaces between the recognizable melodic progression. His momentously brassy solo culminated with a series of smeared bluesy notes. A perfect climax to a memorable evening.

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