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Julius Tolentino Quartet Cecil's Jazz Club West Orange, NJ June 22, 2007
A number of teenagers formed a semicircle around the bandstand during alto saxophonist Julius Tolentino's opening set at Cecil's Jazz Club, one anxiously fingering his horn in anticipation of sitting in. Only a decade or so older than the youngsters who hung on his every note, Tolentino is an accomplished soloist whose stylistic inclinations are converging in fascinating ways. The Jackie McLean influence that was the most prominent part of his style a couple of years ago has receded. In its place Tolentino is rapidly finding an identity as a fluid, athletic, bop-oriented player who also evokes Johnny Hodges's silky cries and John Coltrane's sheets of sound.
Throughout a medium-to-up-tempo rendition of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile, Tolentino enjoyed the steady, workman-like pulse established by bassist Mike Karn and drummer Pete Zimmer. Taking chorus after chorus, there was a slight keening edge to his sound as he maneuvered from the horn's lower range to higher regions. He eased into a bossa nova treatment of Jobim's "Triste, and struck a balance between lyrical melodies and more complicated passages. Tolentino literally made the house go silent during Duke Ellington's vehicle for Hodges, "Jeep's Blues. Creating precise blues building blocks out of intimate whispers, bent notes, and familiar passages, he waxed soft and sexy then loud and proud.
A recent transplant from the West Coast, the twenty-three year-old Gerald Clayton was a stellar accompanist and soloist. While Zimmer's eloquent ride cymbal powered Dizzy Gillespie's up-tempo "Bebop, the pianist displayed poise and a sense of structure. Lines were broken off before they became too convoluted, a repeated phrase kept things grounded, and McCoy Tyner-like harmonies were skillfully stirred into the mix. On the standard "You've Changed he favored short statements that fit into a larger scheme. Starting out with Tolentino's last few notes, throughout Jule Styne's "Make Someone Happy Clayton played simple and recognizable patterns before moving on to more complex matters. He swung hard yet never strained for effect.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.