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Lewis Nash All-Stars at the Nash

Patricia Myers By

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Lewis Nash All-Stars: Randy Brecker, Javon Jackson, George Cables, George Mraz
The Nash
Phoenix, AZ
October 11, 2013

Drummer Lewis Nash led an all-star quintet of Randy Brecker on trumpet, Javon Jackson on tenor saxophone, George Cables on piano and George Mraz on bass to mark the first anniversary of the Nash, Jazz in AZ's performance and education center.

Two 75-minute sets (with separate admissions) comprised the main event of a four-day celebration of the nonprofit center, named for the world-renowned drummer who was born and raised in Arizona. Since leaving Phoenix for New York City in 1981, Nash has worked with most of the jazz world's top stars.

The 7 p.m. set opened with the rhythm section delivering "Helen's Song," Cables' tribute to his late companion, a lilting melody that shifted into a double-time bridge section. The chart featured an emotive solo by Mraz, his warm upright tone also enriching "Beautiful Love."

Successive charts featured Jackson delivering ear-bending solos and Brecker scorching the air against the cohesive rhythm section. The lively mood of "So What" had most of the 100-plus listeners tapping feet in rhythm as the horns exchanged minor moves, Nash inventively using brushes in his notable style that was sparked by amusing "air moves." A trio of ballad charts further revealed Cables' rhapsodic side and clear-as-crystal touch. "My Foolish Heart" exposed Jackson's sweetly torrid sound, followed by Brecker bending and squeezing notes on "Lover Man" and culminating with a too-brief rendition of "When I Fall I Love," Nash propelling gently with mallets. The final up-tempo chart was a rousing version of "I Mean You" from the Thelonious Monk bebop catalog.

The cozy central Phoenix lounge-style venue then was cleared for another 100-plus attending the 9 p.m. session. The trio again opened, after a brief Cables solo on his original, "Lullaby," demonstrating the longtime bebop pianist's lyrical flair. A segue into "You're My Everything" further proved his inventive command, complemented by another luscious Mraz solo. This set had a higher level of energy than the early one, Brecker delivering an impressive series of triple-tongue melodic maneuvers, Jackson stretching even further on the Miles Davis 1951 hit "Dig," and Nash topping it off with his always-entertaining vocal-scat segment.

The mood and mode changed with a medley of familiar ballads ("Skylark," "I Remember Clifford," "My One and Only Love") before exploding into "Straight, No Chaser" to end the evening. Attendance for each set was 115 and 110, twice filling the small center that was launched in October 2012 by Nash leading another top-name quintet: Houston Person on tenor saxophone, Russell Malone on guitar, Cedar Walton on piano and Christian McBride on bass. The Nash since has expanded to be a weekend jazz-performance venue (selling snacks with a wine-beer BYOB license), along with its educational role of scheduling clinics and individual instruction.

The opening anniversary event on Oct. 10 was an in-home wine and appetizers benefit ($100 per person) that featured the rhythm section performing for 72 people. The intimate setting included a meet-and-greet for the trio and the horn players.

The third event was an evening concert on Oct. 12 that featured a local quintet playing tributes to four recently deceased pianists: George Duke, Marian McPartland, Mulgrew Miller, Cedar Walton and longtime Phoenix favorite Keith Greko. Pianists Beth Lederman, Charles Lewis and Michael Kocour shared anecdotes and played charts related to the careers of the five honorees, backed by two Arizona State University jazz students, bassist Ben Hedquist and drummer Ryan Anthony, playing for an audience of 70.

Lederman spoke about each of the artists and performed charts including "Yardbird Suite," "Emily" and "Thread." Lewis delivered a solo version of "I Should Care," then moved to Walton's "Firm Roots," then "Girl Talk," that he said he and Greko both enjoyed playing. Kocour played McPartland's Piano Jazz program theme "Kaleidoscope," Duke's "Love Reborn" and Walton's "Bolivia," concluding with an added salute to Dave Brubeck via "Blue Rondo a la Turk."

The closing event was a New Orleans-style food and jazz brunch on Sunday, Oct. 13, performed by the Phoenix-based Bad Cactus Brass Band. Several featured spots starred trombonist-vocalist Eddie Chop Chops, a Katrina hurricane refugee who has remained in the Phoenix area. Leader Benjie Messmer pumped out low notes on a sousaphone and Chris Peňa dazzled on piano, with subsequent solos by Elliott Ventimiglia on tenor sax and clarinet, and Dan Blake on trumpet. Drummer Jesse Lee Yarbrough's street-beat tempos prompted a second line parade by some of the 57 brunch patrons. Proceeds from the events will go toward Jazz in AZ educational programs and performances.

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