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Atlanta Jazz Festival 2018

Mark Sullivan By

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Guitarist Russell Malone is well known for his time as sideman with organist Jimmy Smith, singer/pianist Harry Connick, Jr., and (perhaps most visibly) with singer/pianist Diana Krall. But he has made many albums as leader as well, and the Russell Malone Quartet sounded like a well-oiled machine. Pianist Mulgrew Miller's soul jazz tune "Soul-Leo" opened the set, followed by the fast bebop of pianist Cedar Walton's "The Rubber Band." Exciting solos all around on this one. Malone played a beautiful unaccompanied introduction to a song made famous by Glen Campbell, songwriter Jimmy Webb's "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," which slowed things down to ballad tempo. Next they played an original from Malone's most recent album Time For The Dancers (HighNote Records, 2017). "Ballad of Hank Crawford" is dedicated to the late saxophonist. "For the Love of You" took things in a more contemporary direction for a cover of an Isley Brothers hit. "Your Zowie Face" is a Jerry Goldsmith song from the soundtrack of the movie In Like Flint (which Malone remembers seeing as a kid, "probably much too young"). It's in 6/8 time, and the piano solo included a clever quote from the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song "Wives and Lovers." Malone played another unaccompanied arrangement, this time the Jackson Five hit "I'll Be There." Far more than just another populist selection, it was also a technical tour-de-force, including counterpoint and harp harmonics. It's nice to be in the hands of a master: there is clearly little about playing the guitar that Malone has not mastered. After a version of "Alfie" (another movie theme, and another credit to songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David) the leader introduced the band. Pianist Miki Yamanaka (who was playing her second show with the band, which was not audible—she fit like a glove); double bassist Luke Sellick, and drummer Anwar Marshall (who is from Philadelphia—Malone commented that he's never played with a Philadelphia drummer he didn't like). The set ended with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard's "Sweet Sue," but Malone immediately began a funky, overdriven blues as a brief encore.

M.F. Production's Latin Jazz All Stars were true to their name, delivering a blistering set of Latin jazz. Flutist Nestor Torres was frequently the center of attention. He announced the opening tune as "Cafe Mario," then moved on to a classic Herbie Mann tune. Trombonist Jimmy Bosch was featured on his tune "Otro Opportunidad," which also featured a section trading fours between trombone, trumpet (Danny Champagne, who was consistently impressive as a soloist) and flute. The pianist joined the conga with vocals and cowbell clave for "El Hombre." Then guest vocalist Claudia Acuna was introduced, first singing a Latin version of pianist/composer Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't," followed by a traditional Spanish song. Percussionist Pete Escovedo (a member of the original Santana band, as well as father of Sheila E.) was featured on Ray Barretto's "La Cuna." The set closed with Almaria Cervantes' "El Marahe."

The Bad Plus took the stage with a bang, with double bassist Reid Anderson's "Big Eater." A fast moving piece full of big contrasts, it immediately demonstrated that while the band may look like a jazz piano trio, they function more like the "acoustic power trio" they have been described as. There were no rock/pop covers in the set, however, with much of it taken from Never Stop II (Legbreaker, 2018)—the first album recorded with pianist Orrin Evans, who replaced founding pianist Ethan Iverson. Evans' "Commitment" provided a contemplative contrast. After band introductions by Anderson they went on to play his "Hurricane Birds," followed by drummer Dave King's first contribution, "1983 Regional All-Star." Other Never Stop II selections included "Salvages," "Safe Passage," "Lean in the Archway," and "Trace" (by my count they played seven to eight of the ten tracks, since I wasn't sure of one stage announcement). They also played "Anthem for the Earnest," an earlier King composition. While I regret never seeing the original trio in action, I am very happy to have seen this set. It's a powerful, entertaining band—Evans seems to fit in like a long-lost family member. This is a band of equals, one with a rare collective vision. They clearly love playing together, and it's a joy to see and hear.

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