After 20 years, pianist Dick Hyman is stepping down as the Artistic Director for the Jazz in July series at the 92nd Street Y. So from July 19th-29th, he invited a superior cast of supporting musicians to help make his final year a memorable one, for him and for the near - if not - sold-out houses each night. The overall succinctness of the performances and especially soloists each night proved that indeed less is more, though several of the themed nights featured more than memorable first sets disjointedly connected to unexceptional second halves, e.g. "Blues After Dark" (7/21) and "If Bix Played Gershwin and Bessie Sang Berlin" (7/27). Highlights, and there were many, included The 60-some year old vocalist Carrie Smith (whose Bessie Smith was much more convincing than the more Broadway-leaning Carol Woods who sang on the above mentioned "...Bessie Sang Berlin" night); the circular breathing trumpet phenom Byron Stripling; versatile multi-reedman Scott Robinson - the "star" of the Benny Carter tribute night, "Saxophone City" (7/22) - on the cumbersome contra-bass sax as well as the light and sweet and not oft heard C-melody sax; an extended big band arrangement of Satchmo's "West End Blues" which utilized the actual recording before Hyman and co. seamlessly added a few minutes to the classic's ending (though it was a bit like adding onto a Van Gogh); Hyman's unaccompanied Bix-composed "In a Mist" which incorporated Gerswhin repertoire into a fascinating and entertaining new composition unto itself; the stride piano orgy in tribute to Fats Waller's centennial which featured stride kings Mike Lipskin, Hyman, Louis Mazetier, and Bernd Lhotsky, as well as guitarist/vocalist Marty Grosz whose Fats-inspired/Slim Gaillard-drenched lyrics made closing night especially grand, though emotionally bittersweet with Hyman handing over the baton to his successor - pianist Bill Charlap.
~ Laurence Donohue-Greene
Though trombonist Grachan Moncur's recent appearance with Jackie McLean may have been historic, it was hardly memorable. However, Moncur was involved with so many of the small group advancements in jazz in the '60s that the opportunity to hear him lead his own group at the Jazz Standard (July 8th) was irresistible. Moncur's stamina and force have undeniably decreased but the ideas are still there and moments of the set showcased his unique, more-subtle-than-ever approach to the trombone. And given that the band, pianist Noriko Kamo, guitarist Satoshi Inoue (who sounded like Grant Green from Lee Morgan's Search for the New Land), bassist Calvin Hill and drummer Ritchie Pearson, only had one rehearsal, they sounded remarkably tight. Moncur played minimally on the heads of the set's three numbers, Shorter's "Footprints", Monk's "Blue Monk" and his own "Frankenstein", instead conserving his energy for long solos. It was a rare treat to hear one of Blue Note's avant-garde '60s anthems played by its composer for the second time this year (the first with McLean and Bobby Hutcherson). While he would certainly benefit from directing the bell into the mic, he still played well enough to elicit enthusiastic approval, the energy level of the audience and his group seemingly inspiring the elder trombonist.
~ Andrey Henkin
Mulgrew Miller brought his superb trio into the Village Vanguard last month for a week of swinging straight ahead jazz. On Sunday (July 11th), the pianist kicked things off with an attractive arrangement of "If I Should Lose You", accompanied by Kariem Riggins on drums and Reuben Rogers, filling in for Derrick Hodge, on bass. The pianist followed with his own leisurely paced "When I Get There", a bluesy gospel tinged piece built on Monkish harmonies. The trio bopped hard on Duke Jordan's classic "Jordu", with Riggins trading fours and eights with the leader. Miller's ballad feature, "My Foolish Heart", displayed the pianist's expansive tone in an insightful interpretation that quoted freely from "I'm A Fool To Want You" and "My Romance". The band cranked things up for Victor Feldman's Miles Davis-famed "Joshua" with Miller vamping a phrase from Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" as Riggins climactically concluded the performance with an exciting drum solo. In a Sunday night Vanguard tradition Miller then invited several of his colleagues from the audience to join him on stage. With Duane Eubanks, trumpeter from Miller's Wingspan ensemble, stepping out front and veterans Ray Drummond and Kenny Washington on bass and drums, the spontaneously assembled quartet thrilled the crowd with an energized rendition of "You, The Night and The Music".