Swingin' on a Riff . . . Hangin' by a Thread?
The afternoon session opened on a bright note with a set by trumpeter Steve Huffsteter's band that could best be described as tasteful. Huffsteter's charts (he wrote all of them) were exemplary, and the ensemble played them with alacrity, opening with "Diz Section" (sparkling solos by guitarist Tom Rizzo, flutist Kim Richmond and soprano Alex Budman) and continuing through "Nostalgia" (Jerry Pinter , tenor sax; Charlie Ferguson, piano), "Grizzled" (I'm guessing at that title, whose soloists were Ferguson and tenor Doug Webb), "Night Walk" (Huffsteter, trumpet; Budman, soprano), "Sneaky" (Huffsteter, muted trumpet; Pablo Calogero, baritone; Richmond, alto), "Melancholia" (young Ryan Dragon, trombone), the flag-waving "Joint Tenancy" (a.k.a. "Alone Together," a heated two-trumpet shoot-out between Huffsteter and Mark Lewis) and "A Waltz and Battery," showcasing Webb, trombonist Whitfield and bassist Chris Conner. The drummer was Matt Gordy, one of an impressive number of accomplished timekeepers heard during the week. Those who were present (and there were precious few) saw and heard another outstanding concert.
Sandwiched between Huffsteter's set and the last concert of the afternoon, by Gary Urwin's superlative Jazz Orchestra, was the second of four panel discussions, moderated by Ken Borgers with panelists Huffsteter, Urwin and Alan Broadbent. While there was no doubt that Urwin's ensemble, which is set to record its fourth album later this summer, would be first-class, he made absolutely certain by enlisting the services of a couple of well-known heavyweights, tenor saxophonist Pete Christlieb and trombonist Bill Watrous. As if that weren't enough, Urwin opened the set with his stellar arrangement of the standard "It Could Happen to You," enfolding dazzling solos by Christlieb and pianist Christian Jacob. Christlieb was masterful again on the ballad "My Foolish Heart," complementing forceful statements by Jacob and trumpeter Carl Saunders. Jacob, Saunders and trumpeter Jeff Bunnell were the able soloists on Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring," while Charlie Davis stepped out of his usual lead trumpet chair to solo on "Beauty and the Beast." Watrous shared center stage on the next four numbers, soloing alone on "A Beautiful Friendship," with Saunders and Christlieb on Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debbie," tenor John Luer on Luiz Bonfa's "The Gentle Rain," with Christlieb again on "Girl Talk." Saunders wrote and soloed on his warm tribute the the late Bob Florence, "Dear Mr. Florence," before the orchestra closed the bracing session with Bird's "Shaw Nuff," featuring Watrous, Christlieb, Saunders and Bunnell. One had a hunch that many of those in the sparse but enthusiastic audience might have happily delayed their supper to hear more.