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Louis Hayes Quartet: San Diego CA, May 10, 2011

Robert Bush By

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Louis Hayes Quartet
Saville Theatre, San Diego City College
San Diego, CA
May 10, 2011

Jazz legend Louis Hayes, a significant progenitor of modern percussion since the early 1950s, visited San Diego's Saville Theatre on May 10, and, with an elite group of local musicians, delivered a blistering set of post-bop, mainstream classics to an enthusiastic, sold-out crowd.

Hayes, 74, a native of Detroit, first gained national prominence as a sideman with John Coltrane, (four albums on the Prestige label), and the quintets of Julian "Cannonball" Adderley and Horace Silver. He went on to co-lead groups with Woody Shaw and Junior Cook, eventually making hundreds of records on dozens of labels.

The New York-based drummer assembled an all-star San Diego group to support his cause. Handling the melodic spotlight, and contributing volcanic solos, was trumpet master Gilbert Castellanos, who plays as well as anyone in the modern mainstream. On piano, Mikan Zlatcovich always comped in the most appropriate fashion. He provided the power to match the drummer's propulsive energy, but also steered the ballads with a sensitive economy worthy of Bill Evans, when that was the right course. San Diego double-bassist Rob Thorsen, whose timekeeping was as solid as an oak, rounded out the quartet, his solos brilliant vignettes of melodic storytelling.

Hayes kicked things off with a strong version of McCoy Tyner's "Inner Glimpse." Right off the bat, the drummer's keen understanding of ride cymbal rhythms emerged as a consistent theme. No matter how common they were, Hayes played fresh interpretations of the "ting-ting-a-ting-ting-a-ting" beat—stories in and of themselves, and it was like hearing those patterns for the first time. Castellanos took a burning solo that brought the spirit of Freddie Hubbard to mind, and Zlatcovich featured crashing left-hand harmonies while his right hand spun long, lyrical lines with seemingly infinite melodic information.

Next, Hayes led off with an Afro-Caribbean beat to introduce a refreshing take on Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma." Castellanos ripped up and down through scales and arpeggios like a man on fire—navigating the divide between Latin and swing grooves like he invented the concept. Zlatcovich's solo was rich in the bebop tradition, and his touch made every note count. Thorsen got his first feature— the band dropped out save for Hayes' whispered hi-hat accompaniment, while he negotiated the arc of bass history, particularly the space between Ron Carter's impeccable time, and the melodic joyfulness of someone like Gary Peacock. Those are just reference points, though; mostly Thorsen channels Thorsen.

The concert continued with a spirited take on Adderley's soul jazz gem, "Sack O' Woe." Castellanos leapt into the blues with a fat, brassy attack, squeezing tart punctuations and injecting a series of hiccupping arpeggios that synched perfectly with the churning rhythm section. He picked up his flugelhorn for a heartbreaking reading of the standard, "Never Let Me Go," his tone and timbre on the larger horn singing with a warm and golden hushed lyrical depth, reflective of his understanding and mastery of nuance.

Monk's, "Green Chimneys" was next, and once again the drummer's crisp stick articulation on the ride cymbal led the way. Castellanos delivered his most harmonically dense solo of the evening, conjuring up the dazzling technical fireworks of Clifford Brown along with the thematic mystery of Woody Shaw, Castellanos is a man to watch for on the trumpet front. Hayes was impressed enough to ask for his number backstage after the concert was over and, given the number of top-flight trumpeters in the drummer's history, it wasn't an empty gesture.

After a Harmon-muted Miles Davis-inspired take on "Love For Sale" (Hayes once turned down a job offer from Davis to remain in the employ of Cannonball), the drummer counted out the final tune of the evening, and played several choruses of the fast blues, sans band, including one whole chorus of just ride cymbal alone. Hayes demonstrated a thoroughly modern understanding of 21st Century drum aesthetics on this one, with intricate and swirling articulations.

As the stage lights came up, Hayes assembled the band, shoulder to shoulder, and beamed at the sold out house—drinking in the tumultuous, prolonged and well-deserved applause. Mainstream acoustic jazz rarely gets better than this.


Photo Credit

Michael Oletta

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