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Ken Walker Sextet at Dazzle in Denver

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Ken Walker Sextet
Dazzle Jazz Club
Denver, Colorado
December 28, 2007 (second set)

The Ken Walker Sextet is a little like the full moon, except the KWS is more dependable and swings harder. Sure, everybody knows there's a full moon once a month, but what day? It always changes. Then there's that blue moon thing. The Ken Walker Sextet, on the other hand, has the last Friday of each month nailed down at Dazzle Jazz Club in Denver. Count on it. Then there's the full moon with its graceful arc across the sky. It's nice, but does it make you snap your fingers? Walker and his band, on the other hand, evoke (but don't demand) that response.

This past Friday's performance featured Eddie Harris tunes for half of the second set. The band started with "Gone Home with a syncopated stop-start head guaranteed to put any missed notes as obviously out in the open and out of place as a naked skier. It didn't happen. From there, the band played the only original tune of the set, one still searching for a title, but described by the band leader as a Calypso in 7/4. Duke Ellington's "The Feeling of Jazz followed, then Hoagy Carmichael's "Skylark. Two more Harris tunes wrapped it up, "Nothing Else To Do and the well known greasy groove of "Cold Duck Time.

A Ken Walker Sextet show is always a nice combination of tasteful ensemble playing and solos that range from searing and blistering to lyrical and poignant. Jeff Jenkins on piano usually uncorks solos in the searing and blistering category, sometimes after a more modest start. Friday night he offered up a few of those, but he was also content to explore more lyrical, though less fiery territory. I've always thought that's a sign of a confident musician—a player who doesn't feel compelled to show off every time the spotlight turns toward them.

The band's front line featured Dave Corbus on guitar, Peter Sommer on tenor and Al Hood on trumpet. Hood is a big guy and the trumpet looked like a toy in his hands. His middle linebacker size was a striking visual contrast to the substantially more slender Corbus and Sommer, who flank him on stage. The solos of all three proved bebop is still alive and well. Sommer's musical personality ranged from thoughtful, poetic lines to unfurling sheets of notes.

With both a guitar and a piano in the band, those instruments are able to take turns comping the soloists, which keeps the textural colors varied. Also, the band members' laying out while a solo was going afforded them opportunities to regroup and serve up infectious back-up riffs behind a cooking solo.

The band's namesake, bassist Ken Walker laid down an absolutely solid, swinging foundation, many times with interesting, intricate lines that added real depth to the tunes. And drummer Paul Romaine seems to have perfected the art of moving each limb (including his head) in a different direction at different times while still keeping a firm beat punctuated with polyrhythmic fills.

The Ken Walker Sextet is mainly a live performance band these days, having released only one CD, the exquisite Terra Firma. There's no question that it would be great to have another album like that, but for now, the monthly Dazzle gig amounts to a pretty good deal for Denver jazz fans.


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