All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Serving jazz worldwide since 1995
All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource

Live From New York

Joseph Jarman, Bob Wilber, Charles McPherson & Vinny Golia

By Published: April 6, 2010
Every so often, tubaman David Ostwald's weekly early evening gig at Birdland is transformed into more of a one-off occasion. On this particular date, the set provided a good excuse to celebrate a pair of close-proximity birthdays. First, the august record producer George Avakian was reaching his 91st year. He was surrounded by family, friends and admirers, as Ostwald peppered the gig with imaginary cocktail party groupings of artists whom Avakian had produced (mostly for Columbia), discovered or conceptually directed (or a combination of all three). One of the clusters we'd like to eavesdrop on included Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
, Liberace, Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar
Ravi Shankar
1920 - 2012
sitar
and Doris Day.

The second birthday cake delivery was intended for reedsman Bob Wilber
Bob Wilber
b.1928
, though it was slightly in advance of the actual day of his comparative whippersnapper 81st. Conveniently, this veteran of Soprano Summit and The World's Greatest Jazz Band remained onstage with Ostwald's combo for most of the duration, swapping between clarinet and curved soprano saxophone.

As Wilber now resides in the obscure English village of Chipping Campden, this was something of a rare showing in his native NYC. This Wednesday session is always popular, which is why it's celebrating its 10th year. Even so, the presence of Wilber and Avakian swelled the audience even further, creating a very warm, party-like atmosphere. The tuba-pumping leader was in his element, his humor as dry as a crackling autumn leaf.

Ostwald's crew is a shifting body throughout each month. On this particular evening he was joined by Ed Polcer
Ed Polcer
b.1937
(cornet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Ehud Asherie
Ehud Asherie
Ehud Asherie
b.1979
piano
(piano) and Marion Felder (controlled-thunder drums). Wilber's presence prompted a slight sideways step outside their accustomed Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
Louis Armstrong
1901 - 1971
trumpet
-connected repertoire. They opened with a dashing "China Boy," manifested in more of a Bix Beiderbecke
Bix Beiderbecke
Bix Beiderbecke
1903 - 1931
cornet
form, even though it was recorded by Pops. Wilber was spotlit with minimal accompaniment during "When You're Smiling," and his wife Pug Horton stepped up for a brief vocal spell.

The solo succession was sprightly as Wilber, Polcer and Fryer all demonstrated the art of profound brevity. When Asherie took a solo, the mood would disperse into a gauzy contemplation, in sharp contrast to Felder's stormily booming outbreaks. The tunes flew by with a relaxed looseness, even though the players were completely in control. Their grasp of the material is so firm that they can afford to jump and swerve around the melodies. It was thrilling to catch Wilber in such an ideal setting, belying his years with such swiftly fluent soloing action.

The Charles McPherson Quintet

Jazz Standard

March 13

On the day of NYC's worst rainstorm in many a year, saxophonist Charles McPherson
Charles McPherson
Charles McPherson
b.1939
sax, alto
chose to open the evening's first set with "Spring Is Here," albeit in a toughened hard-bop incarnation. Here is another player whose age doesn't affect his stamina. If McPherson has slowed down, then he must have been truly ferocious back in his prime 1960s days with Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
.

This performance shimmered with a constantly high level of gripping action. Even the ballads retained a measure of implied strength. McPherson's hard-writhing attack was the dominant element, but he had Tom Harrell
Tom Harrell
Tom Harrell
b.1946
trumpet
standing by his side, unmoving, eyes closed, like some bearded sage fresh from a desert fast. When Harrell placed his horn to his lips, he issued crisply dotted solos that developed a narrative flow. He was mostly choosing flügelhorn, taking the roseate route.

Once the frontmen had delivered their statements (on tunes penned mostly by Harrell, with an occasional McPherson piece), there was no time for audience complacency during Jeb Patton
Jeb Patton
Jeb Patton
b.1974
piano
's piano solos. He was jabbing aggressively, rolling out dense phrases after the fashion of Fats Waller
Fats Waller
Fats Waller
1904 - 1943
piano
or Art Tatum
Art Tatum
Art Tatum
1909 - 1956
piano
, but with a modernized Don Pullen
Don Pullen
Don Pullen
1941 - 1995
piano
diamond-hardness. His style's also reminiscent of Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner
Kenny Werner
b.1951
piano
's art-barrelhouse, human player-piano approach. Piano solos frequently allow the listener to rest in-between bursts of horn hyperactivity, but this is emphatically not true when Patton's at the keyboard.

Meanwhile, Ray Drummond
Ray Drummond
Ray Drummond
b.1946
bass
and Willie Jones III
Willie Jones III
Willie Jones III
b.1968
drums
were stoking the bass and drums, respectively, adding up to a band of equal strengths and tussling dominance. Throughout this breathlessly compulsive set, all five players were consistently magnetizing the attention, constantly introducing some new gesture of excitement, some unpredictable twist. Their sonic realm was a sheer pleasure to inhabit. How could McPherson possibly have escalated any further during the night's following two sets? Perhaps he did so, but a superior gig would be difficult to comprehend.

Vinny Golia/Adam Lane/Weasel Walter

Issue Project Room

March 25


comments powered by Disqus