LA’s own Nate Morgan and his quartet lit up the Howling Monk’s Jazz at 10 series in Leimert Park. The pianist dazzled with a program of streamlined soul jazz adorned with aural lightning. Morgan shuffles the keys and deals an obscene number of aces. He can bury you in technique, break your heart, and have you dancing. Everything he plays is suffused with blues. Onaje Murray held down the vibes chair. Murray makes a good match for Morgan. He has high-speed precision playing and an imagination that flows like a firehose. Local favorite bassist Nedra Wheeler kept swing time for the erupting front line, while drummer Sonship Theus played a clean solid beat.
The band played unamplified in the intimate Village Theatre. Morgan commenced the proceedings with a tumultuous solo that resembled early McCoy Tyner, without the latter’s strenuous angularity. The others entered at Theus’ bells. Wheeler kept the train on the tracks with her solid bottom, and Murray wasted no time playing himself into a blur. Morgan answered in kind with a fast talking right hand and a band leading left. “Retribution Reparation” featured a sly riff and a thorny theme smoothed out by Morgan’s bluesy variations, with Wheeler walking him through. Murray’s solo found him deftly hammering sparks out of the vibraphone.
Morgan took the ballad, “Blame it on My Youth,” solo. Using a richly chorded orchestral arrangement, he created a movingly romantic performance. Next, Morgan and Wheeler played Monk in duet. Nate teased all the blues out of the tune, while Wheeler defined the momentum. Theus snapped a crisp rhythm, then doubled the time launching Morgan across the sound barrier.
On a soulful medium tempo number, Morgan smokes the vibes while Morgan takes an easy rolling solo. Wheeler held the center of the swing. When she closes her eyes, smiles and sways her head, you know the groove is on. Finishing with a hard swinging piece, Morgan relentlessly tore into his keys to find immediate inspiration. For his part, Murray came down on the vibes like human hailstorm, Wheeler and Theus providing stability.
The Nate Morgan Quartet’s pyrotechnics celebrated the musicians’ virtuosity and the Howling Monk’s return to producing stellar engagements like this one.