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Bob DeVos Quartet At Trumpets Jazz Club

David A. Orthmann By

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Bob DeVos Quartet
Trumpets Jazz Club
Montclair, NJ
January 26, 2018

We live in a time when some of the septuagenarian jazz survivors, with roots in the music's venerated years, are taking a well-deserved victory lap. They've earned the right to expect audiences to pay to hear them replicate—at least to some extent—the sounds of their glory days with high profile bands, years in which jazz drew a much larger and younger crowd. It's a win for all concerned. The audience gets close to a living legend and experiences live versions of material they're likely to have only heard on records; the leader receives some additional recognition and much needed employment; and, younger, capable side persons gain valuable experience as well as assurances that they too are part of the tradition.

In a quiet, unassuming manner, guitarist/composer/bandleader Bob DeVos consistently defies this kind of late career paradigm. While he's justifiably proud of, and could easily continue to consistently make hay out of bygone associations with the cream of the soul-jazz organ combo leaders, such as Trudy Pitts, Charles Earland, Richard "Groove" Holmes, Jimmy McGriff, and Jack McDuff, DeVos' current musical ambitions are larger and more diverse. At an age when many excellent players are long past their creative peak, he continues to evolve, actively seeking alliances with a variety of musicians from different generations, thriving in a number of instrumental configurations, and continuing on a course that is more about the present than the past.

At a recent gig at Trumpets Jazz Club, a place where DeVos appears on a regular basis, he projected the poised, levelheaded demeanor of someone who has a handle on every aspect of the performance—the instrument, material, venue, audience, as well as the band. Jason Tiemann, a young drummer who has moved in DeVos' circles for the last year or two, joined the guitarist's longtime associates pianist Andy LaVerne and bassist Steve LaSpina. A five selection, hour-long set was an inspired, expeditious, multifaceted exchange of ideas in real time. Anyone who paused to contemplate the music's pedigree and influences ran the risk of missing something vital.

DeVos' improvisations occupy a place in which moderation is its own reward. There's more than a grain of truth in the rather clinical sounding claim that his style is largely about organization and attention to detail. Every note DeVos plays carries its own weight, he's never at a loss for ideas, and his solos often feel like one long swell from start to finish. He isn't bold, flashy or dramatic, yet his playing is deeply emotional—surely a product of the years in which he played the blues in front of audiences who weren't shy about expressing their displeasure of anything they perceived as weak, indecisive, or inauthentic. Almost without exception, DeVos builds momentum over the course of a few choruses in a way that sneaks up on the listener and makes a cathartic climax superfluous.

With all of these things in mind, some of the set's highlights consisted of DeVos remaining in character and staying upright while getting jostled by Tiemann. In the midst of the guitarist's clean, precise efforts on LaVerne's composition "Sabra," a pronounced series of bass drum hits—not unlike the sound of a tire's confrontation with potholes—were followed by insistent interjections of the hi-hat that snapped as if divorced from the rest of the drum kit. DeVos' tune "Step Into Spring" found the drummer complementing the leader's sparse, amiable lines by crashing the top cymbal twice, executing several buzz strokes, then shifting to weighty, propulsive ride cymbal time—all in quick succession.

Not unlike DeVos, LaVerne plays as if his search of several decades is not even close to ending. During "Sabra," the standard "Without A Song," and DeVos' "Three/Four Miss C" the pianist's variegated, articulate statements left three general impressions: A somewhat polite, everything in its place ambiance; a liberal use of chords reminiscent of McCoy Tyner; and, despite an overall sense of order, the feeling that LaVerne, with the help of LaSpina and Tiemann, stretched the music as tightly as possible without reaching the breaking point.

From the beginning to the end of the performance, DeVos, LaVerne, LaSpina and Tiemann were the consummate mainline jazz ensemble. The material generated from within their ranks was genuinely original; they listened, responded, and gave each other space on a moment-to-moment basis; the soloists were striking and always part of the band's gestalt. One can only hope that DeVos and company will get more opportunities to work in NYC area clubs and concert halls. This is a band that deserves to be heard.


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