The Turning Point Cafe
June 22, 2009
A couple of minutes into Shirley Scott's "There's Blues Everywhere," Alvin Queen's medium tempo shuffle beat had a galvanizing effect on his band as well as the normally decorous audience at The Turning Point Cafe. Throughout the fifty minute set, which encompassed a brash rendition of Horace Silver's "Nutville," a ballad treatment of the standard "Old Folks," and a wickedly fast version of Victor Feldman's and Miles Davis's "Seven Steps to Heaven," Queen's infectious, deep seated groove unified the group and genially prodded the soloists. Exceeding the polite and somewhat rote appreciation that one often observes in jazz clubs and concert halls, the crowd gave something genuine in return, offering spontaneous comments and frequently breaking into applause in the middle of solos.
Organized by tenor saxophonist John Richmond, The Turning Point's jazz series curator, the gig was something of a homecoming for Queen. Born in the Bronx, New York and raised in nearby Mount Vernon, he's a three decade expatriate currently residing in Switzerland. His resume includes extended stints with luminaries such as Horace Silver, Oscar Peterson, and George Benson. Aside from being a smart, technically adroit drum stylist, Queen often leads accomplished hard bop oriented bands like the one on I Ain't Looking At You, his 2006 recording for the Justin Time imprint.
In generating a steady flowing pulse, Queen built rhythms from the ground up, frequently playing a straight four beats to the bar on a rather small bass drum. His desire to swing wasn't simply a matter of individual effort and sheer will. It encompassed an impressive collaborative rapport with bassist Danton Boller. There was something intensely physical about the way they kept the beat moving forward, and the sound, resolute but not necessarily loud, swelled to the far corners of the room. It was a pleasure to see the bassist and drummer enjoying themselves. They often made eye contact, exchanged grins, and nodded their heads together in time.
Trumpeter Terell Stafford, pianist Dado Moroni, and Richmond made the most of Queen's and Boller's exquisite foundation. Evincing a full clear sound and faultless control over the horn, Stafford's "Nutville" solo featured bright percolating phrases and sudden, exhilarating trips to the higher register. Shot full of blues essence, Richmond's "There's Blues Everywhere" turn worked the horn's lower region, and tilled a dour phrase before his lines became heartier and more complex. The bass and drums dropped out in the middle of Moroni's "Seven Steps" solo. As if nothing unusual had occurred, he continued at the breakneck pace, briefly playing stride figures with his left hand and then long florid lines with the right.
The leader's solos were exhilarating displays of technique, form and contrasting timbres. His scrambled snare drum fireworks on "There's Blues Everywhere" gradually evolved into precise, linear, rudimental strokes. An introduction to "Nutville" melded nasty, stomping time by the bass drum, easygoing single strokes to the mounted tom-tom, and a shower of finely crafted rim knocks. Following Moroni on "Seven Steps," Queen's three distinctive hits to a tom-tom were answered by a second or two of silence, and then extended, thunderous trips around the set were augmented by impossibly fast pats to the bass drum.
The set ended much like the way it began. Following the out head of "Seven Steps," Queen instantly transformed the rapid jazz time into a medium tempo shuffle. Richmond's riff set off a brief celebratory statement by Stafford. And the sustained applause that followed felt nearly as good as the music.