Bobby Porcelli Quintet at The Turning Point Cafe, NY
The Turning Point Café
Piermont, New York
April 14, 2008
Every jazz fan knows the pitfalls of attending a casual club gig. The leader confers with the band and calls a string of too familiar tunes. A musician looksand playsas if he or she would prefer to be elsewhere. An hour-long set is comprised of seemingly endless solos by everyone on the bandstand. Sometimes it all adds up to nothing more than a wasted (and costly) night.
Despite the risks, there are instances when these affairs are the perfect antidote to the current glut of meticulously planned, theme-oriented presentations. An opening set which featured veteran alto saxophonist Bobby Porcelli reminded me of why it's still worth taking a chance on casuals. Tenor and soprano saxophonist John Richmond, whotongue in cheekreferred to himself as the "curator" of The Turning Point Café's jazz series, put together a group of players who relished making music in the moment, and they delivered the goods from start to finish.
A veteran of Latin jazz bands led by major figures like Machito, Tito Puente, and Mongo Santamaria, Porcelli evinced a robust, individualistic take on the bebop vocabulary. His tart tone cut through the band like a knife. During "I Hear A Rhapsody," the set's opener, restive lines were perfectly framed by Bill Moring's walking bass, the guitar chords of John Hart, as well as Tim Horner's drums and cymbals. Porcelli never stayed in one place long enough to become predictable. He seemingly tossed out phrases at random on Benny Golson's "Along Came Betty," only to pull them together when reaching the tune's bridge. Monk's "Ask Me Now" was a dazzling display of bop balladry. Porcelli moved from a bustling unaccompanied opening to a solo including a maze of shouts and cries before climaxing on a sentimental cadenza.
Even in a region which boasts an abundance of accomplished tenors, Richmond's reemergence after several years away from the New York City scene is a stroke of good fortune. Throughout the set there was a fine contrast between his muscular tone and his unforced way of swinging and sustaining momentum. Like Porcelli, Richmond avoided tangents and anything resembling a cliché. His solo on "Along Came Betty" melded brief cries, stark blues locutions, and hard-charging runs, while staying in close contact with the rhythm section. The saxophonist briefly took some of the edge off his tone during the Latin section of Horace Silver's "Nica's Dream," resuming with the heartier sound as he pounced on the tune's straight up swing bridge.
John Hart's approach to improvisation was a masterly patchwork of diverse elements. During "Along Came Betty" measured single note lines suddenly became garbled. An odd-sounding chord led to a jumble of notes closely followed by a solid, funky groove. Toward the conclusion of "Bolivia," hushed chords yielded to high, twangy tones, a brief quote from Cedar Walton's melody, a rapid phrase repeated like a broken record, and angular ascending chords which chomped against the beat.