Jim Rotondi at The Turning Point Cafe
The Turning Point Café
April 11, 2010
When the words "Bye, Bye" sounded from outside The Turning Point Cafe in the middle of Jim Rotondi's "Angel Eyes" cadenza, he didn't hesitate to imitate the singsong tone of the woman's voice. A journeyman whose credits include the Ray Charles Band, the collective One For All, as well as several discs as a leader on the Posi-Tone, Criss Cross and Sharp Nine labels, the trumpeter knows a thing or two about embracing spontaneity and making the most of the materials at hand. Working from a set list assembled just a few minutes before they hit, a crackerjack band convened by TPC jazz series curator John Richmond provided ample support and stimulation for Rotondi throughout the hour long performance.
In addition to non-stop propulsion, Rotondi's style contains craftsmanship that is easy to overlook in the heat of the moment. There's virtually no hesitation and few wasted notes in his playing. During a burning "Speak Low," and a medium tempo waltz treatment of "Cry Me A River" (from the recent Blues For Brother Ray disc on Posi-Tone) he varied phrase lengths, dynamics, and velocity in ways that favored coherence over dramatic effect. Rotondi's flugelhorn turn on "The Girl From Ipanema" offered acute contrasts as he shifted from long agitated lines, to soft, burnished flourishes, to a series of brief, shrieking runs.
Tenor saxophonist Richmond made an estimable front line partner for Rotondi. On "Cry Me A River" he crafted a complete statement from short, effusive declarations, brief hints of the tune's melody, and cautious, broad-toned passages. The opening notes to "The Girl From Ipanema" sounded like simple patterns of speech, and he eventually integrated soft gauzy tones and long hard blasts.
Knowing when to assert themselves and when to lay back, a rhythm section comprised of pianist Steve Ash, bassist Chris Haney, and drummer Steve Williams kept things humming. Ash's chords behind Richmond made a distinct impression during "The Girl From Ipanema." Later on it sounded perfectly natural for him to drop out for long stretches of Rotondi's improv.
Haney and Williams made a wickedly fast tempo on "Just In Time" seem like child's play. Alone and in eight bar exchanges with the band, the drummer brought the set to a rousing climax. He executed dazzling sticking and footwork, made abrupt changes in dynamics, and readily moved in different directions while maintaining a semblance of continuity.