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August 2012: Brian Betz Quartet, Featuring Denis DiBlasio

RJ Johnson By

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Brian Betz Quartet

Chris' Jazz Café

Philadelphia, PA

August 31, 2012

Guitarist Brian Betz led his quartet through a set of standards at Chris' Jazz Café in Philadelphia. In a set comprised entirely of standards, the band used its divergent musical personalities to uncover new ground within a familiar framework.

The set began with a fiery rundown of "Secret Love," a piece favored by jazz pioneers such as saxophonist Dexter Gordon. Baritone saxophonist Denis DiBlasio set the mood for the entire band by showcasing his ability to play long eighth note-based lines over several bars. Rather than playing individual phrases or licks, DiBlasio seemed to favor cohesion and aplomb. His solo on this up-tempo rendition may have been aggressive, to say the least, but the intelligence of DiBlasio's improvisation quickly became more apparent than his chops. His ability to link chord changes within lines demonstrated remarkable foresight, especially in comparison to other bebop-based horn players. Every line he played remained completely relevant to the tune's framework, yet the high tempo and demanding nature of the band never seemed to disturb DiBlasio's focus. Every chord change was addressed, and DiBlasio never seemed to fumble through any section of the tune.

In terms of musicians associated with Philadelphia, DiBlasio's approach on baritone is comparable to Ben Schachter's on tenor. Their vocabularies may be entirely different, but both musicians possess the remarkable ability to play lengthy improvised lines which never feel prefabricated, and always remain true to the song at hand.

Several tunes associated with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn found their way into the set, but it was the group's rendition of "Satin Doll" which perhaps best exemplified Brian Betz's soulful playing. Though the guitarist was more than capable of keeping up with the truculent style displayed by DiBlasio, he seemed far more adept at taking the lead on easy swing tunes. Betz began his solo with several Wes Montgomery-inspired octave-based lines, building to chordal melodies and eventually finishing with a series of double time lines that segued perfectly into another DiBlasio solo. Betz also emphasized a quarter note-based comping style popularized by guitarist Freddie Green. The style is deceptively easy, yet in reality, takes years of both practice and hours of listening to perfect. While several of today's guitarists seek newer, more contemporary sounds as well as vocabulary, Betz remains an authentic voice who has obviously done his homework when it comes to jazz tradition.

Two of Philadelphia's most in demand rhythm section players, bassist Madison Rast and drummer Dan Monaghan, rounded out the group. For some—especially those who frequent the Philadelphia jazz scene—the chance to see them perform together is enough to make any show worth seeing. Their interplay was telepathic from the first note, but was especially strong on saxophonist Joe Henderson's "Inner Urge." Compared to the rest of the set, this seemed like a slightly odd choice, but its inclusion was all the more exciting for that very reason. It's is a particularly dark tune, and is certainly not as popular a standard as "Satin Doll" or "Secret Love." Rast played the first solo, perhaps inspired by the original recording, which also began with a bass solo. Rather than simply playing his own ideas, Rast seemed more inclined to interact rhythmically and stylistically with Monaghan. In a way, it was more of a duet than a solo, which seemed to inspire both players. Monaghan took the last solo, playing unaccompanied. His crisp cymbal work occupied space similar to drummer Billy Hart, but Monaghan took the opportunity to build his solo to a thunderous roar before bringing the band back in.

Betz has several albums of his own, including a recent collaboration with DiBlasio. He can be seen in Philadelphia fairly regularly, and also frequently performs in New Jersey.

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