Andy Fusco and Friends

David A. Orthmann By

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Andy Fusco and Friends
Kean University
Enlow Recital Hall
Hillside, NJ
March 25, 2010

There was a stark contrast between the first and the second half of a concert billed as "Jazz on the Fazioli" and "Andy Fusco and Friends." Pianist Ted Rosenthal opened with jazz interpretations on classical themes. Making the most of a magnificent Fazioli grand piano, Rosenthal's solo renditions of Beethoven's "Sonata Pathetique," J.S. Bach's "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring," and Chopin's "Waltz in A Flat" included ample technique, a rich harmonic palette, and a rather staid improvisational sensibility. Most importantly, he didn't attempt to graft any particular jazz style on the compositions. An adaptation of George Gershwin's "Prelude in B Flat" veered between merry and majestic. Throughout "Maple Leaf Rag," Rosenthal displayed an impressive command of Scott Joplin's ragtime rhythms and tightly knit melodies.

Only a few seconds into the concert's second half, Andy Fusco's edgy rendition of Freddie Hubbard's "Birdlike" raised the room's temperature by a few degrees. Fusco is an intense, highly skilled alto saxophonist in the bebop tradition with a tart tone and a willingness to take chances. Playing as if his life depended on it, he found many ways of converting torrents of notes and down-to-earth phrases into logical pathways.

During the world premiere of an untitled calypso penned by Rosenthal (who served as the band's pianist), Fusco stubbornly shoved groups of notes against the beat, offered a slew of bop oriented thoughts, and hit on a simmering Latin-oriented groove. His interpretation of "Embraceable You" barely touched Gershwin's melody. During the following solo Fusco sounded both restless and utterly joyous. He raced ahead of the relaxed pace set by bassist Martin Wind and drummer Tim Horner, fell silent for a couple of measures, and eventually incorporated a brief snippet of the song.

Rosenthal's improvisations exhibited some of the same characteristics as his solo playing, and a few surprises as well. During the early stage of an unnamed trio selection, he executed one long, flowing sequence after another. On McCoy Tyner's "Inception" he contrasted somewhat polite single note lines and weighty Tyner-like chords.

Wind and Horner made positive impressions as accompanists and soloists. In one instance the bassist served as an effective anchor while Rosenthal offered wildly contrasting thoughts. His strong walking line lifted the band during the pianist's "Birdlike" improvisation. Integrating some nicely executed strumming, Wind's "Embraceable You" solo stayed close to the melody and made every note count.

Because Horner frequently offered support in ways that didn't stand out, his emphatic moments were all the more enjoyable. The drummer's snare, tom-toms and bass drum leaped on Rosenthal's repeated chord sequences in the middle of "Bar Hopping." Later he used the foot pedal to make the hi-hat cymbals chomp for several bars. An exciting solo on "Birdlike" included snare and tom-tom combinations answered by the bass drum, and cymbal crashes which reacted to heaving snare drum figures.

Fusco's "Inception" solo brought the concert to a close in a stunning fashion. Going one-on-one with Horner's drums, he stitched together long skittering phrases, several compressed cries, and a number of high, twisting honks. The standing ovation which followed was long and enthusiastic.

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