May 2003

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At the Heath Brothers' gigs, the idle chatter takes place on the bandstand, not among the audience.
The Heath Brothers — At their gigs, the idle chatter takes place on the bandstand, not among the audience. The Heath Brothers — saxophonist Jimmy, bassist Percy, and drummer Albert (“Tootie”) — are swinging, tight, and wildly irreverent. They treat the Village Vanguard bandstand as their living room (locker room?), cracking off-color jokes, laughing with and at one another, and making beautiful music. Jeb Patton held his own in this environment; Jimmy Heath grinned from ear to ear when listening to the young pianist’s relentlessly creative solos. Tootie started out “Sleeves,” the “Autumn Leaves” variant, on tambourine, waiting skillfully for the tune to gather steam before picking up his sticks. Other highlights included “Lover Man,” “Nostalgia” (superb tenor solo, Percy on cello!), and “Flamingo” (Jimmy on soprano).

Fred Hersch & Norma Winstone — Their duo album on Sunnyside, Songs and Lullabies, is a treat. Winstone, who rarely performs in New York, was in slightly huskier voice than on the record, taking gratifying risks during her wordless solos and delivering lyrics with great finesse. Hersch was simply fabulous (he always is these days), effortlessly manipulating the rhythmic flow of every tune while coaxing pearly tones from the piano. Joe’s Pub is at its best, it seems, in pared-down settings like these, without a full band to overload the acoustics. Hersch and Winstone played a number of selections from the album, but also standards such as “Nobody’s Heart,” “This Heart of Mine,” “If I Were a Bell,” and even Steve Swallow’s “Ladies in Mercedes.”

Claudia Acuña — The Jazz Standard was all hers for a week, and the band was killing: Jason Lindner on piano and Rhodes, Jimmy Greene on saxophones, John Benitez on bass, Gene Jackson on drums. Acuña’s Spanish-language vocals were rich and life-affirming, her interplay with the band organic and highly developed. Drummer Jeff Ballard sat in on Lindner’s “Meditation on Two Chords”; Lindner also meditated on two other chords during his incandescent solo on “I Fall In Love Too Easily,” played as a piano-vocal duet. Acuña’s ethereal yet jubilant rendition of “Nature Boy” closed out the week.

Deidre Rodman – Gearing up for the recording of her second Sunnyside disc, the pianist/composer led a marvelous quintet at Cornelia Street, with Tony Malaby on saxophones, Russ Johnson on trumpet, Bob Bowen on bass, and Mark Ferber on drums. Vocalist Luciana Souza joined for a couple of songs, and Rodman even provided backing vocals — not something you hear at a jazz gig too often. Malaby and Johnson had a lot of reading to do, for Rodman’s material is dense and carefully composed, with background lines and contrapuntal swirls filling the air much of the time. But Rodman never skimps on charged, open-ended improvisation. Nor does she keep her rock-n-roll influences under wraps.

J.D. Allen — Appearing at the Jazz Gallery with Orrin Evans on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums, the tenor saxophonist played one of most solemn, mournful sets in recent memory. Allen’s penchant for flickering, darkly hued poetics can be heard on last year’s Criss Cross outing, Pharoah’s Children. His long, well-chosen silences only heightened the impact of his level-headed but aggressive tone.

John Ellis — A new band at the Gallery, with Orrin Evans back again on piano, Gregoire Maret on harmonica, Mike Moreno on guitar, Barak Mori on bass, and Kendrick Scott on drums. Tenor sax/bass clarinet man Ellis continued to elaborate his southern influences on tunes like “Country Girls” and “Sippin’ Cider”; he was also on-message with hip, melodic hooks on “Bonus Round” and “Seeing Mice.” His tenor solos were forceful and elegant. The gig was afflicted, however, by a slight case of too many cooks. Maret has been playing brilliantly of late, but he couldn’t seem to find his way into this particular mix. Evans and Scott showed signs of a very strong rapport, and the Rosenwinkel-influenced Moreno, a colleague of Jeremy Pelt’s, handled the music beautifully. But things seemed a bit bogged down. Ellis’s new record in the works ought to highlight the material to better advantage.

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