Joseph Jarman, Bob Wilber, Charles McPherson & Vinny Golia
The second birthday cake delivery was intended for reedsman Bob Wilber, 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 (cornet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Ehud Asherie (piano) and Marion Felder (controlled-thunder drums). Wilber's presence prompted a slight sideways step outside their accustomed Louis Armstrong-connected repertoire. They opened with a dashing "China Boy," manifested in more of a Bix Beiderbecke 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
On the day of NYC's worst rainstorm in many a year, saxophonist Charles McPherson 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.
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 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's piano solos. He was jabbing aggressively, rolling out dense phrases after the fashion of Fats Waller or Art Tatum, but with a modernized Don Pullen diamond-hardness. His style's also reminiscent of Kenny Werner'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 and Willie Jones III 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
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