Mark Hagan, Bill Mobley, Danny Walsh, Bob DeVos, Andy Watson At The Old '76 House

David A. Orthmann BY

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Mark Hagan, Bill Mobley, Danny Walsh, Bob DeVos, Andy Watson
The Old '76 House
Mark Hagan's Jazz Salon
Tappan, NY
July 29, 2015

Over the last four years, bassist Mark Hagan has presided over a Jazz Salon at The Old '76 House in Tappan, NY. The Wednesday night series is important to fans and musicians alike. Hagan organizes a different group each week, exercising a magic touch in bringing together excellent, stylistically compatible players from the New York City area (Tappan is about 25 miles from Manhattan), and then spontaneously working out a program on the bandstand. This year I've attended the Jazz Salon on a regular basis, catching up with musicians whose work I've long admired, and discovering the talents of players of varying ages who have escaped my notice. The night's first set is always devoted to the group of the week, with each player given ample room to blow. Following a short intermission, a jam session ensues, affording the opportunity to musicians of different levels of ability to sit in.

Even when judged by the high standards of previous Jazz Salons, the July 29 performance was exceptional. On one level the night's opening set could be viewed as a seminar—no lectures, just music—on some great jazz tunes from the mid-to-late twentieth century. As played by Hagan, trumpeter/flugelhornist Bill Mobley, tenor saxophonist Danny Walsh, guitarist Bob DeVos, and drummer Andy Watson, compositions written by Sam Rivers ("Beatrice"), Cedar Walton ("Bolivia"), Miles Davis ("Blue In Green"), Lee Morgan ("Ceora"), and Clifford Brown ("Sandu"), sounded fresh and vital. Not content to offer garden-variety versions of these classics, the ad hoc group found unique ways of treating the material. Mobley, on trumpet, began the melody of "Beatrice," Walsh played some compatible figures, and then the two executed the rest of the tune in unison. The result sounded like a written arrangement instead of something executed on the fly. While the horns layed out, DeVos offered an interpretation of "Sandu" that contained real bite and deep feeling for the blues. Characteristic of the veteran guitarist's direct, understated style, there wasn't a cliché or excess note to be heard.

The band's rhythm section invariably hit on the right combination of propulsion, support, and restraint—a dying art in an era when accompaniment often gets lost as players engage in a competition to be heard. Swaying his head and shoulders when the music kicked into high gear, Hagan stayed in the trenches and swung in an effective, unfussy manner. Occasionally, Hagan offered a surprise—like in the middle of Mobley's "Sandu" solo, when he mischievously launched the band into a chorus of double time, and then deftly the steered course back to the original middling tempo. DeVos' comping behind the horns and Hagan was something more than perfunctory harmonic and rhythmic support; his work in the midst of the bassist's "Blue In Green" and "Ceora" turns were ideal places to appreciate the nuances and frictions of a quiet, assured voice. Time and time again, Watson proved to be the rarest of jazz drummers: One who assertively kicked the band without getting in anyone's way or breaking momentum even for an instant. His extroverted ride cymbal defined each beat with clarity, and a litany of snare drum accents occupied a zone between support and an independent line. Throughout DeVos's "Boiliva" solo, Watson listened carefully and challenged the guitarist in appropriate measure.

Mobley, Walsh and DeVos were all up to the task of making their voices heard amidst the rhythm section's robust, concentrated support. Taking things at a nice even clip, briefly posting a couple of high notes, and pausing before offering more complicated fare, Mobley's "Beatrice" solo made a virtue out of moderation. Walsh's persistent, hard swinging "Bolivia" solo rapidly put together disparate pieces of information. Among other things, a long circular run and garbled lines that rapidly straightened out, all flew by in quick succession. Displaying his trademark blues infused lyricism, DeVos' "Blue In Green" turn included an ascending figure that moved slightly ahead of the beat, some flowing triplets, and a chordal interlude that, rhythmically speaking, stood in marked contrast to his single note lines.

After the last note of the set sounded, some impromptu remarks by Richard Sussman, President of the Rockland County Jazz and Blues Society, took an unexpected turn. Subsequent to mentioning that the Jazz Salon was part of the 2015 Nyack Jazz Week and announcing the attractions for the remaining nights of the series, Sussman surprised Hagan by presenting him with the Society's Lifetime Achievement Award. The recipient thanked everyone and exclaimed, "This is the first time I've ever won anything!" Sussman continued by praising Hagan's role in sustaining the Jazz Salon, and emphasizing the importance of a place where musicians and audiences can hang and enjoy the music in an informal, congenial atmosphere.

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