Kenny Garrett/Pharoah Sanders — This Blue Note engagement was the talk of the jazz town for a week. The two saxophonists raised the roof with the help of Carlos McKinney on piano, Robert Hurst on bass and Jeff “Tain” Watts on drums. It’s hard to imagine a sound more intense than Sanders blowing with gale force, buffeted by Watts’s non-stop, triple-tom assault. The first tune, an up-tempo burner, stretched to nearly 15 minutes and provided more than a set’s worth of energy and information. But the band played on, and grew — trombonist Steve Turre and trumpeter Wallace Roney sat in for the remainder, including a blazing “Giant Steps” and Garrett’s funky, lyrical “Sing a Song of Song” (from 1997’s Songbook). Garrett got the crowd to sing the melody on the latter; Sanders, for his part, opted to sing it directly into the bell of his horn.
Marvin Stamm — Appearing at Birdland, the Westchester-based trumpeter and Kenton/Thad&Mel alumnus sounded radiant in the company of pianist Bill Mays, bassist Rufus Reid and drummer Ed Soph. After two loosely swinging, highly interactive workouts (Thad’s “Mean What You Say” and Reid’s up samba “When She Smiles Upon Your Face”), John Abercrombie joined the group as a special guest. How curious to hear this guitar modernist on Bill May’s brisk arrangement of Gershwin’s “Strike Up the Band.” Abercrombie took the spotlight for a few minutes with “A Nice Idea,” the leadoff track from his 2002 ECM effort Cat ’n’ Mouse , and played beautifully on Mays’s folkish 5/4 piece “In Her Arms” (from the pianist’s latest Palmetto release, Going Home ). It was clear throughout the set that Stamm and Mays share an especially strong musical bond, and this made their exquisite duo rendition of Kenny Wheeler’s “Widow in the Window” all the more gratifying. Stamm stuck to fluegelhorn for the second half of the set; Mays cast a spell with his harmonic imagination and sheer stage presence; Rufus Reid had a ball, not to mention a great big sound; and Ed Soph revealed a deliciously angular rhythmic concept that nudged every tune just slightly left of center.
James Emery — Our own Laurence Donohue-Greene brought Mr. Emery to the lovely Hudson View Gardens apartment complex in Washington Heights for a magnificent solo concert. Playing his custom D’Aquisto through a pair of Tannoy speakers and a Mackie mixing console, Emery enthralled a small but entirely receptive audience with readings of Monk (“Played Twice,” “Criss Cross,” “Monk’s Mood”), Coltrane (“26-2”), and Ravel (“Forlane” from Le Tombeau de Couperin). He also offered a selection of originals including “Falling River Time,” “Poetry in Stillness,” “Arc into Distant Night” and “The Pursuit of Happiness,” along with a fabulous “Lush Life.” Emery’s agility and technical prowess are astounding, but it all adds up to more than just chops. What Emery has is a unique improvisational vocabulary. His open-string moves and his feats of finger independence aren’t just for show; they always bring about some uncanny and original musical effect.
Olu Dara — The eclectic Dara and his four-piece backing band (guitar, bass, drums, percussion) energized a small but enthusiastic audience at Makor. In addition to playing pocket trumpet, blues harp and a bit of guitar, Dara sang in a laid-back, half-spoken drawl and often gravitated toward a kind of free-associative storytelling, sounding almost like an apolitical Gil Scott-Heron. On the menu was a mélange of funk, delta blues, and lively Afro-pop. (The only problem was the harsh, brittle, painfully loud tone of Kwatei Jones-Quartey’s guitar during solos.) With his cap cocked to the side, Dara comes across as a sharp-tongued wisecracker; during this set he questioned the manhood of the bartender and an audience member unwise enough to yell out a remark between songs. If Dara hasn’t provoked fistfights on the road, I’d be very surprised.
Chris Potter — New band, new music at the 55 Bar, with Craig Taborn on Rhodes, Adam Rogers on guitar and Nate Smith on drums. Potter’s music thrived in this fairly grungy, lo-fi setting, with the Rhodes/guitar blend providing rough edges and Smith laying down plenty of groove in the absence of bass. Potter seemed to surpass all conceivable limitations on the tenor, especially during one stunning unaccompanied passage, a transitional passage between tunes.