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Mel Martin Sextet at the Douglas Beach House, Half Moon Bay, CA

Bill Leikam By

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Mel Martin Sextet
Douglas Beach House
Half Moon Bay, California
August 16, 2009


Mel Martin and his sextet stepped into a "new" Douglas Beach House Sunday afternoon, August 16 and presented the first acoustic jazz concert to be held there in decades. During the previous week, owner and impresario Pete Douglas decided to go back to the roots of jazz by stripping out the mixing board and the sound system, leaving only a hot vocal mic and monitors available for the musicians. It was into this setting that Mel, along with New York's legendary pianist Don Friedman, bassist Robb Fisher, drummer Jeff Marrs, guitarist Brad Buethe, and John Santos on congas and percussion, settled in to present Martin's newest album Where the Warm Winds Blow (Jazzed Media, 2009).


No one knew just how the house would sound, but by the end of the show, everyone was more than pleased. The first set opened with George Russell's composition "Ezz-Thetic," and it was immediately apparent that Martin had brought to the Beach House an outstanding tight, gritty band. The leader's flute came through strong and pure throughout the piece, while the band's more-than-impressive drummer Jeff Marrs laid down a rock-solid foundation. "Rhythm Man (Do Not Disturb)," written by Mel Martin, was the second cut from their album and proved to be a tough, driving tune this evening, with Martin now on tenor sax, his fingers fluttering over the keys with knowing dexterity while reminding this listener of Dizzy Gillespie when, upon blowing hard, he puffed out his cheeks, albeit to a lesser degree.



Deep into the tune, John Santos on percussion and Jeff Marrs on drums "careened" into a duo—Martin calls it a percussion discussion—and what a discussion it was. It was obvious that both men had fun exchanging ideas back and forth, playing for, and off, each other as though talking to one other while taking the listeners on a unique trip. Later in the performance Martin and Friedman took duo honors on Miles Davis'"Blue in Green." It was during this tune that Friedman caught fire, the tune as well as his piano coming alive. Robb Fisher was impressive on acoustic bass while Brad Buethe on guitar had a couple of arresting solos.



Throughout, the solos by each band member were sharp and to the point. There is no laziness or self-indulgence in this line- up, no egos getting hung up on their on solos, and extending them too long. They were on a collective journey; the album no doubt showed the way, and they took the engrossed audience along with them.



Although Mel Martin based the evening concert on Where the Warm Winds Blow, the program had a few added tunes, such as "From Pops to Bop and Beyond," woven in. The relatively small audience was handed a treat, and on top of that Pete Douglas' decision to go back to the roots proved a stroke of genius. When all was said and done, the audience gave Martin and company a standing ovation—not something that these sophisticated jazz lovers routinely do unless the performance warrants it. The audience's response, both during and at the end of the show, was in itself testimony that an evening with Mel Martin and his sextet is well worth the time to get out and hear them live.

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