Kenny Garrett was in funky fettle. The saxophonist's latest band seem incredibly youthful, but are also armed with impressive technique and a clear understanding of several jazz satellite forms. In some ways, this second night of their Iridium residency came on like a first night, troubled by severe lateness due to an over- running early evening show. Nevertheless, this still didn't seem to mobilise anyone into a hurrying mood, and the first set ended up starting almost by the time that the second was due. Pity the poor folks queuing outside in the freeze.
Despite these problems, it didn't take Garrett long to lock into his groove. There's little fusion smoothness here. This rubbery gang of Corey Henry (Hammond organ/weebling synths), Lenny Stallworth (electric bass) and Tim Smith (drums) started to lay down some fearsome funk, interlocked with a springy tension. The stretches where this quartet snagged onto a pneumatic riff were coiled excitement in the extreme, but then there were other passages where all became untied, and the music wandered around for a while, searching for another nexus. These are the trials of improvisation. The material was loose enough to take these risks, and the pay-off was equally extreme whichever way the music went. When he wasn't arching his alto high towards the sky, Garrett also played texturising keyboards for much of the time, setting up a Miles-ian density with Henry, whose Hammond playing exuded strength and confidence throughout.
Stefon Harris & Blackout at Dizzy's Club
Like Garrett, vibraphonist Stefon Harris is concerned with funk and fusion, his Blackout five-piece dedicated to a similarly hard-edged manifestation of various groove forms. The leader is a phenomenal talent, applying more than the usual amount of aggressive thrust when skimming his mallets to make a series of precise detonations. Shifting from vibes to marimba gives Harris a broad palette, further enhanced by Marc Cary's retro keyboards and Casey Benjamin's saxophone, and bolstered by the latter's just-tipping-over-the- edge-into-cheesy vocoder-simulation routines. Drummer Terreon Gully offered several solos of immense suppleness, powering with subtlety, barnstorming with finesse. Both Kenny Garrett and Stefon Harris are taking what they need from the 1970s, then re-configuring these aspects into their own interpretations, re- born with original themes, and updated by their signature styles.
The Pat Martino Quartet & David Ostwald's Gully Low Jazz Band at Birdland
The dapper Pat Martino makes his playing appear so nonchalant, a smile flickering across his visage as he bleeds out another extended exploration of every possible melodic tangent. The guitarist makes a repertoire dominated by standards seem somehow fresher, going about his soloing business with an almost scientific method of dissection. He's logical in his progressive escalations, and almost removed from reality, perching himself some distance from the usual axe-master grimacing. Martino is very much in his own subjective stylistic universe, standing apart from the majority jazz tone of muted mellowness, but not heading too far out towards a rock distortion. He screams inwardly. Martino's Birdland set gave full room to display an extensive range of nimble spirals, only slightly marred by a too-active (and too loud) drummer.
Existing in a completely different musical continuum is tubaman David Ostwald and his Gully Low Jazz Band, who dedicate themselves primarily to the repertoire of Louis Armstrong. Birdland hosts this residency every Wednesday at 5.30pm, and numbers were probably swollen for the 80th birthday celebration of clarinetist Joe Muranyi. It helps to have an old Armstrong sideman in your ranks, and this evening's mission was to revisit the old repertoire from the late 1960s, when Muryani was touring with the final Louis line-up. Visibly cheered by all the attention, Muranyi was playing demonically, and snatching up the microphone for several impromptu vocal numbers. Trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso and trombonist Dion Tucker completed a dynamic front line, with banjoman Vince Giordano and leader Ostwald bouncing their wry witticisms back and forth. Drummer Kevin Dorn kept up the brightly bouncing momentum throughout. Tucker offered a heartfelt testimony, his privilege as the youngest member, and were those tears in Muryani's peepers as his flickering-candled cake emerged from the wings? Probably not, as most of this japing combo walk on the deadpan side of the alleyway...