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Bob DeVos Quartet at the 12th Annual OSPAC Jazz and Brew Fest

David A. Orthmann By

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Bob DeVos Quartet
Oskar Schindler Performing Arts Center
12h Annual Jazz and Brew Fest
West Orange, NJ
September 19, 2015

A loud, protracted rumble, not unlike the sound of aircraft hovering overhead, briefly marred the second selection of a set by guitarist Bob DeVos' Quartet. It took a minute or two for the sound crew at the 12th Annual OSPAC Jazz and Brew Fest to get things back on course. The unwelcome interruption was just another reminder that outdoors festivals, even one as well programmed and efficiently organized (seven acts in eight hours) as this one, are multifaceted enterprises, only partly about the music emanating from the stage. The food trucks, craft stands, clothing outlets, and various other vendors, all in close proximity, competed for peoples' attention. Several hundred people enjoying a lovely Saturday afternoon didn't necessarily fit the profile of the audiences that one often encounters at jazz events held in concert halls or clubs. A couple in the front row read The New York Times while soaking up the sun and sounds. A child sitting immediately behind me had a vigorous and protracted argument with his parents.

DeVos and his band deftly cut through the distractions without resorting to excessive volume, crowd-pleasing gestures, or showmanship of any kind. (Sometimes—fine jazz wins the day, even when pitted against craft beer and barbeque.) His music (four of the five selections were the guitarist's compositions) and conception lies somewhere amid soul-jazz, bebop, and post-bop developments. The band had a knack of sounding hot and cool at the same time—an amalgam of prudence, just the right amount of tautness, and a feel-good vibe. For the most part the sounds were devoid of knockout punches and dead spots, instead offering steady, unfussy progress, the accumulation of telling details, as well as group interplay.

Particularly during solos by the leader and organist Dan Kostelnik, the blues was present in a way that spread out, yet didn't turn glib, hackneyed, or reach for cathartic climaxes. Always flowing, always making something complex sound straightforward and agreeable, DeVos' "Wives and Lovers" turn began with a series of affable three and four note phrases. Some edgy single notes evolved into something smoother, followed by a neat variation of the opening notes of the tune's melody. Digging into the solid time of drummer Steve Johns, Kostelnik's "Track and Field" improvisation offered the impression of a craftsman assembling a piece of work in real time. While navigating the up-tempo pace in ways that sounded natural and unhurried, at one point his lines leaped forward, paused for emphasis, and leaped again. A repetitive phrase comprised of several notes served as the basis of a whole chorus.

Tenor saxophonist Ralph Bowen—the most recent addition to a band that has been together for a decade—and Johns often put a lively, extroverted spin on an otherwise steady course. During a new, unnamed DeVos' composition, the tenor saxophonist knitted together a number of sounds, finding a funky emphasis early on, punching in a long and complex run, and continuing to keep the funk close at hand even while exploding with a profusion of notes and hitting one high, extended burr tone. Johns' excessively miked bass drum booted parts of Bowen's solo and hectored DeVos' lines throughout "After Burner." The drummer's turn towards the end of "Track and Field" included a whirring tom-tom and snare combination that resembled the sound of a blender; and he gleefully inserted a jacked up bass drum thump in the midst of repetitions of a light, agile cymbal rhythm.

WBGO's Music Director/Morning Jazz Host Gary Walker's introduction to DeVos' set covered all of the bases, including the guitarist's association with celebrated figures of yore, such as Charles Earland and Richard "Groove" Holmes. Without diminishing the significance of DeVos' past professional associations, I believe it's high time to place his present accomplishments, front and center, where they belong. By virtue of his prowess as a guitarist, composer, bandleader, and recording artist, DeVos has earned the right to be included in the circle of living jazz legends.


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