2005 Ballard Jazz Festival, Seattle, WA
The Ballard Jazz Festival Youth Big Band
Eric Alexander/Peter Bernstein Group
Joe Locke Quartet
Ballard Jazz Festival
Mars Hill Church Performance Hall
November 19, 2005
The Mainstage Concert that concluded the third annual Ballard Jazz Festival featured a delightful spectrum of the music. There was a brief opening set by The Ballard Jazz Festival Youth Big Band led by Jim Sisko, some meaty mainstream hard bop from the Eric Alexander/Peter Bernstein Group, and a high-energy set from vibraphonist Joe Locke's adventurous quartet.
Veteran composer-arranger Phil Kelly, now semi-retired and living in Bellingham, provided three charts for the big band. Comprised of musicians from a number of the high school groups participating in the festival, the large ensemble played with a combination of heart and precision that belied the members' relatively tender ages. Even more impressive was the factannounced from the stagethat the scores arrived only four days before the concert and there was but one full rehearsal.
"Subzatoot Shuffle kicked off the evening's music in swinging fashion, with pleasing solo work from trumpeter Dylan Smith and bassist Eric Nils, both Ballard High School students.
"Baby Doll is an easygoing lope along Basie lane, delectably reminiscent of the "two Franks (Foster and Wess) edition of the Count's band. The dynamics in Kelly's arrangement were handled smoothly by the ensemble, highlighted by a fine solo from Brendan Carver on flugelhorn, evoking Clark Terry's influence. Garfield High School's Patrick Davis anchored the rhythm section in admirable style at the drum set; Sisko's announcement aptly pointed out that this kind of tempo and rhythmic feel are difficult to pull off. What sounds effortless requires plenty of elbow grease.
Kelly has a penchant for tongue in cheek titles. The set closing "Cuzn Bubba Luvz Ewe evokes a down home funk fueled by electric bass, demonstrating conclusively that Bubba is no hillbilly. Sisko's introduction took wry note of the possibly slightly unsettling connotations of the title. Vibraphonist Steven Bell took a brief yet compelling solo and there were also spots for uncredited trombone and tenor saxophone solos.
After the break MC Jim Wilke outlined the usual no flash photography, please turn off your pagers and cell phones ground rules, adding that audience members should also "make sure your Dick Tracy two-way communicators are off.
The Eric Alexander/Peter Bernstein Group was next. Wilke noted Alexander's Pacific Northwest connection (he graduated from Olympia High School.) Tenor saxophonist Alexander and his compatriot, guitarist Peter Bernstein, were joined by Seattleites Chuck Deardorf on bass and Ballard Jazz Festival co-Artistic Director Matt Jorgensen on drums.
Duke Pearson's composition "Jeannine opened the set. Alexander has credited George Coleman as a major influence, citing his hip harmonic approach. Although Alexander plays within the structures of post-hard bop, he does so sans clichés. His robust, chesty tone recalls past pre-bop masters like Ben Webster as well, with heft and resonance aplenty in the lower range of the horn. There was a crafty "Stranger in Paradise quote during his solo that dovetailed nicely and sounded a bit like a tip of the pork-pie hat to Dexter Gordon. Bernstein's solo showcased his fluid and mellifluous blend of chordal and single note lines in improvisation; he's alsoike Alexandera master of rich tone and subtle nuance. Deardorf soloed next. Everyone was conscious of shape and form in their extemporizations, with Jorgensen's outing following an ensemble-drums "chase sequence and a rhythm trio segue.
Bernstein's hip, bluesy "Bones was next. Alexander took a great solo, showcasing his impressive range and control. He's a superb technician with true heart, and says something in his solos; they're stories with beginnings, middles and ends. Deardorf's solo was also very tasty, with elegantly subtle guitar comping.
The classic ballad "I Thought About You began as a euphonious duo for tenor and guitar. Jorgensen with brushes and Deardorf tiptoed in after a bit, caressing the contours of the lovely melody in eloquent fashion. Bernstein's thoughtful solo was followed by some refined tenor paraphrases and a lengthy unaccompanied tenor coda before the ensemble capped the performance: sweet in the true sense of the word.