The theme of Merkin Hall's Monday Nights No Minimum series has become clear: piano duets between "mentors"? and "students"?, usually who have maintained very similar styles. The inaugural concert of the series (Andrew Hill and Jason Moran) blew most minds but may have been too much. Subsequent entries have been less conceptual, more rollicking. The most recent performance, Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller, was the most successful bridge across the cerebral and emotional gap. Barron has come into his own over the last few years as the preeminent thinking straight ahead pianist. Close on his heels is the younger Miller. Both favor rich, thick melodies and vibrant chord voicings and together they are a whirlwind. The material, as has been the case with the other shows in this series, was mainly standards: "Parisian Thoroughfare"?, "Embraceable You"?, "Stablemates"?, and "Blue Monk"?. This let the duo really explore these old favorites, filling in each other's spaces and even good naturedly stepping on each other's toes a bit. If there could be a cutting contest on the keys, this may have been it. When each played solo (Miller on his original "Where or When"? and Barron on his favored cover "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most"?), the pace was more relaxed, the feeling more involved. Back together, they breathed new life into a venerable instrument.
~ Andrey Henkin
Charles Tolliver brought his 17-man big band to Jazz Standard for a four night stand. Kicking off the first set (Feb. 17th) with his "In The Trenches", the trumpeter blew a solo cadenza and then conducted his allstar aggregation through the powerful arrangement. Alto saxophonist James Spaulding had the first solo, a scorching extended outing, followed by the always-exciting John Hicks at the piano. The battling trumpet section of Leron Thomas, David Weiss, Winston Byrd and Chris Albert had at it next, in a blazing call and response section, followed by Ralph Peterson's exuberant drum interlude. Spaulding switched to piccolo for the cacophonous out-of-tempo overture of "On The Nile", which featured tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, trombonist Jason Jackson and Hicks and Tolliver.
The mood calmed for a lush orchestration of "Truth", showcasing bassist Cecil McBee's warm sound along with Tolliver. Spaulding, Bill Saxton and Craig Handy played flutes, blending beautifully with muted trumpets on the leader's grooving "Chedlike". The set concluded with a tour de force AfroCuban arrangement of "Suspicion" that opened with a compelling bass recital by McBee. Ralph Peterson's clave rhythm drove the band, anchored by Howard Johnson's baritone sax and the trombone section of Aaron Johnson, Barry Cooper, Jason Jackson and Clark Gayton, in the feature for Bill Saxton's deep dark tenor.
Sonny Fortune brought a new quartet into Sweet Rhythm to close out February in his regular Village venue. Joined by the young Philadelphia pianist Fareed Barron, bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Steve Johns, Fortune started off Friday night's second set on soprano saxophone with a searing version of Wayne Shorter's "Footprints", exploring the full range of the straight horn, his full bodied bottom register sounding particularly imposing. The saxophonist then picked up a cowbell and spurred Barron through an exciting solo that was replete with Tynerish flourishes. Jackson followed with a statement that demonstrated his under recognized virtuosity and Johns finished the solo cycle with an impressive percussive display before the group tastefully faded the hypnotic melody.
The set continued seamlessly with "Waynish", an original by the leader dedicated to Shorter, featuring his own distinctive relentlessly emotive alto saxophone. Barron delivered a rhythmically inspired two-handed recital and Jackson took another articulate solo before Johns traded eights with the altoist. Fortune featured his flute on "Mind Games" a pretty original song well suited for his appealing tone. The flautist blew increasingly long legato lines on the melody accompanied elegantly by the trio. He remained on flute for the finale, a tour de force rendition of his classic composition "Awakening", on which he demonstrated his unparalleled technique on the instrument, circular breathing through an unremitting five minute solo that had the audience rapt in excited amazement.
~ Russ Musto
Recommended New Releases
· Dave Douglas - Mountain Passages (Green Leaf)
· Janek Gwizdala - Mystery to Me (janekbass.com)
· Fred Hersch - Leaves of Grass (Palmetto)
· Dave Holland Big Band - Overtime (Dare2)
· Ed Neumeister - New Standards (MeisteroMusic)
· David S. Ware - Live In the World (Thirsty Ear)
~ David Adler (NY@Night Columnist, AllAboutJazz.com)