Newport Comes to Chicago
Rhythm sections in jazz combos, although often giving up the spotlight to the more out-front horn players, are absolutely key in making the music sound good. And with Cedar Walton on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums, one would expect this rhythm section to do everything right. Well, they did this, and so much more. I was absolutely blown away by this trio of players, for their individual talents but even more so for the incredible synergy they displayed. Each player was able to play in his own way, yet together they sounded organic.... like one. Whether they were holding down the groove, comping, pushing the soloists or giving performances as a piano trio, it seemed that these three masters could do no wrong. Cedar Walton was in absolute top form. He led Washington and Nash through his two trio pieces with style and grace. Walton’s solos were concise, well-developed, and often beautiful. His sense of harmony was evident as his solos would slowly develop and would often times sound like entirely new compositions. He would do this solo after solo, and it was bewildering to me. On top of that, his comping was always interesting, and his interaction with Washington and Nash provided a perfect musical carpet that any soloist would be privileged to walk across.
Peter Washington was the anchor of this band who kept it all swinging hard. While he delivered some solid bass solos, his strength every time I’ve seen him has been to keep everything together in an interesting way, and this time it was no different. His sense of time was excellent, he grooved hard, and his playing was never, ever boring or repetitive. He’s a musician’s musician, a player that you’d always feel lucky to have on your team. Seeing him up there, its no wonder that he is one of the most in-demand bassists in the world. And what is there to say about Lewis Nash that has not already been said? He’s simply one of the greatest drummers around, and I sincerely believe that its because of how tasteful he is. He always knows what he has to do and he does it right. Way too many drummers nowadays seem to be interested in showing off their technique and playing flashy or loud. Nash is a musical drummer, and he plays what the music demands from him. With his ride cymbal always making you feel the pulse, Nash lays low until he has to. He seems to have a sixth sense for knowing where his soloists are moving, and he pushes and guides, always empowering but never overplaying. This was evident on every song that he played on, especially on Lester Young’s “Tip Toe”. And as a soloist, he delivered the goods over yet another Ellington vehicle, “Caravan”, where he played an incredibly musical and swinging solo beginning with sticks, then using his hands on the kit before seamlessly moving on to brushes, mallets, and back to sticks again. Lewis Nash can do it all, and as a drummer, there are few in his league. Guitarist Howard Alden is the only member of the all-star septet that I just wasn’t digging. By no means do I think he is a bad guitarist. His playing was pretty on “Single Pedal of a Rose” and he provided good rhythmic support to the ensemble as well as to James Carter during their duo performance of “A Flower is a Love Song”. But there was just something about his mellow style that was not moving nor exciting to me. On the faster numbers, he sounded a bit out of his element. He seemed to have some good ideas, but was unable to execute them fluidly. However, he did not in any way hinder the group dynamics nor decrease the high quality of music that was being played that evening.