Jazz Happening: Andy Fusco and Friends in Union, NJ

David A. Orthmann By

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Jazz Happening: Andy Fusco and Friends
Kean University Wilkins Theatre
Union, NJ
November 19, 2007

Throughout an invigorating seventy-five minute set in which each member of the band had something significant to say and everything came off in fine style, alto saxophonist Andy Fusco inadvertently stole the show at Kean University's Jazz Happening concert. Soloing on seven of the evening's eight selections, the altoist transformed the language of Charlie Parker and reconfigured the extensions of Bird acolytes such as Jackie McLean into a cogent style of his own. The enormous amount of detail that went into Fusco's improvisations never sounded rushed and contained an overarching sense of logic and order.

Fusco's turn on Duke Pearson's "Minor League, the set's opener, offered a series of scrambled, piercing notes and small cries, giving the impression of running in place and then rapidly leaping forward. He sounded like a one man carnival during "Jump Street, one of two selections penned by Dave Stryker, the band's guitarist. Darting in different directions, pushing and pulling against the pulse, Fusco's run-on thoughts were deeply passionate. His normally keening, weighty tone softened somewhat for a ballad rendition of "I Wish I Knew, oozing sincerity and evincing genuine affection for Harry Warren's standard tune. An up tempo romp through George Russell's minor classic "Ezz-Thetic swung hard as Fusco's phrases careened off one another. A first rate rhythm section comprised of pianist Mark Soskin, bassist Ed Howard, and drummer Tony Reedus pushed him to greater heights.

The band's other primary soloists, Stryker and Soskin, had their share of bright moments. The guitarist's solo on his composition "The Chaser featured vivid, carefully chosen single notes which became longer and more cantankerous when Reedus inserted punchy snare and bass drum accents. An unassisted performance of Duke Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss unfolded tantalizingly. For a time Stryker offered only hints of the melody before he revealed more of the tune when reaching the bridge.

Soskin's trim lines throughout Horace Silver's "Blowin' The Blues Away danced around Fusco's and Stryker's improvised riff. Leaning hard into some McCoy Tyner-like chords, he continued to swing vigorously and brought things to a fitting climax.

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