From Charlie Christian to Charlie Parker
It's not often one has a chance to see and hear a dozen of New Mexico's premier jazz musicians together onstage (or almost so) for a single concert, but that is what took place August 11 as an overflow audience welcomed the Charlie Christian Project and SuperSax New Mexico to the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History near Old Town. Both groups were enhanced by the presence of trumpet master (and Albuquerque native) Bobby Shew whose playing, as always, was a model of resourcefulness and taste. With the Charlie Christian Project, conceived by bassist Micky Patten as a tribute to the legendary guitarist who gained fame with the Benny Goodman Sextet and Orchestra before he died in March 1942 at age twenty-five, Shew discarded his typically modern approach to soloing in favor of a swing-era style that was more in keeping with the spirit and substance of Christian's pre-bop work with Goodman and others. Meanwhile, guitarist Michael Anthony, long a mainstay in Hollywood studios before relocating to New Mexico several years ago, proved to be a superb stand-in for Christian himself, while Patten and drummer Cal Haines provided unflagging rhythm.
With Shew alternating on various numbers between trumpet, cornet and flugelhorn, the quartet opened with the irrepressible "Royal Garden Blues" and continued through "Rose Room," "Love Me or Leave Me," Christian / Goodman's "Seven Come Eleven," Barney Kessel's "Salute to Charlie Christian," "Lonesome Road," "Rosetta," "Stardust" (a showpiece for Shew's cornet) and "Limehouse Blues." Haines, acting as emcee, invited the audience to dance, and the area in front of the bandstand was filled for several numbers. There were, as it turns out, almost two shows for the price of one, as a lone (and quite attractive) brunette, dancing by herself, added a unique series of interpretive moves to the proceedings before she was encouraged to audition her erotic pirouettes and come-hither glances elsewhere (as I remarked to a friend, "all she needs is a pole"). Whoever the woman was, she wasn't really doing any harm, simply trying to make the concert about her, not the music. She almost succeeded.
After an intermission, SuperSax NM charged into the breach with a crackling rendition of "Blue 'n Boogie," after which the group's sole newcomer, alto saxophonist Sam Reid, was given the first sax solo, on Dizzy Gillespie's "Salt Peanuts." Reid was sitting in for the nonet's elder statesman, octogenarian Arlen Asher, who was recovering from recent surgery. The rest of the lineup remained intact: Shew, Haines, alto Dave Anderson, tenors Kanoa Kaluhiwa and Lee Taylor, baritone Glenn Kostur, pianist Bert Dalton and bassist Michael Glynn (guitarist Anthony joined the group for its final number, Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia"). "Blue 'n Boogie" and "Salt Peanuts" were followed by "Star Eyes," "Cool Blues," "Parker's Mood," "Be-Bop," "Just Friends" and "Tunisia."
For those who may be unaware of its history, the original SuperSax was formed in Los Angeles circa 1972 by saxophonist Med Flory and bassist Buddy Clark, the concept being to orchestrate solos by the legendary Charlie Parker for a full saxophone section. SuperSax recorded several best-selling albums and earned a Grammy award in 1974 before disbanding in the early 1990s. Two years ago, Haines decided to resurrect SuperSax in New Mexico, and the Museum concert was the group's fourth gig since then. The irrepressible Flory, who turned eighty-six on August 27, is an outspoken booster of SuperSax NM and gave his blessing to using the original charts. With those charts in hand, and plenty of rehearsal time under its belt, SuperSax gave an electrifying performance, complete with emphatic solos by Shew, Dalton, Reid, Kaluhiwa and Kostur, superior timekeeping by Haines and Glynn, and finger-busting ensemble work by the saxophones. In sum, a highly enjoyable performance, tempered only by the unhappy thought that a group this good can't find steadier employment.
Bloviation X 2