Blue Note 7 Celebrates 70 at the Kennedy Center
April 5, 2009
Featuring a super group compiled from its illustrious roster, last Sunday night's concert at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater celebrated the 70th Anniversary of the Blue Note recording label with a series of musical snapshots of some of its most renowned composers, performers, and individual compositions.
Arranged somewhat like a historical documentary, or perhaps a eulogy, the evening proceeded in a highly structured way. Each tune was carefully framed by a brief introductory explanation, with each performer given their turn at the mike, and the ensuing performance presented essentially as a round robin of solos honoring each composer's stylistic contribution to history.
Performed by Ravi Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Steve Wilson (alto saxophone, flute), Peter Bernstein (guitar), Bill Charlap (piano), Peter Washington (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums), each of the night's tunes was executed with grace, deference, and utmost respect. The result was a series of satisfying renditions of many crowd favorites, including Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance," McCoy Tyner's "Search for Peace," and Monk's "Evidence".
As always with musicians of such stature, there were many individual moments of astounding musicianship as they worked their way through these offeringsfrom Payton's patient, high register explorations on "Inner Urge," to Nash's rhythmic inventiveness on the night's highlight "United," to Washington's dexterous bass on "Dolphin Dance".
Despite these moments, however, in the end the concert seemed less than the sum of its parts due to the scripted nature of the format. A more compelling choice might have been to celebrate Blue Note's history of creativity by foregoing the predictable format of an anniversary tour, with its requisite formal dignity, to feature something more free-wheeling.
Doing so might not have resulted in technically better music, but could have produced a few more surprises by liberating the immensely talented artist's gathered on stage instead of pressing their creativity beneath the glass of a retrospective.