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Nous N’Irons Pas a New York 2013

Patricia Myers By

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Nous N'Irons Pas a New York 2013
Duc des Lombards
Paris, France
July 23-30, 2013

Four American jazz stars performed as part of a two-month-long tribute to New York-style jazz at Duc des Lombards for its annual Nous N'Irons Pas a New York ("We're not going to New York") theme, indicating that New York/American musicians were appearing at the club.

Pianist Cedar Walton, 79, was walking with a cane, but he performed at top level from a repertoire of standards and originals with his longtime bassist David Williams and French drummer Mourad Benhammou. In the first set, Walton seemed to be in a reminiscent mood, playing pretty versions of "Young and Foolish," "Over the Rainbow" and a quote-filled "Body and Soul."

His melodic reflections continued on three originals, "Cedar's Blues," "Martha's Prize" (written for his wife) and "Dear Ruth" (for his mother). He gained energy with his most widely known composition, the dynamic "Bolivia," fusing Latin rhythm with hard-bop phrasing.

A highlight of the second set was an extended medley of Thelonious Monk hits that segued from "Bye-Ya" and "Ruby My Dear" to "'Round Midnight" and "Rhythm-a-ning," each filled with inventive harmonics and rivulets of runs. His final selection was the pensive "Every Time We Say Goodbye." When the audience encouraged an encore, he chose "On the Trail," the only one of five movements from composer Ferde Grofé's 1931 orchestral composition, "Grand Canyon Suite," that has become a jazz standard.

Earlier in the week, pianist Cyrus Chestnut swung his way through two knuckle-busting originals, "Spicy Honey" and "Soul Brothers Cool." The next selections prompted nods of familiarity with two totally different genres, the pianist playing Lionel Richie's 1980s hit "Hello" and then shifting into the classical catelogue with "Swinging the Toreador," first heard on guitarist Barney Kessel's 1959 reworking of composer Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen, on Modern Jazz Performances from Bizet's Carmen (Contemporary).

Chestnut returned to his jazz book with "Stompin' at the Savoy" that had every foot in the room tapping to the strong swing energy delivered with the aid of American expat bassist Darryl Hall and drummer Willie Jones III. Dizzy Gillespie's "Con Alma" was conveyed in waltz tempo instead of the usual Latin rhythm, followed by the pianist revealing his early church-gospel influence in a deep-hearted rendition of "How Great Thou Art." He closed the first set with the wonderful 12-bar blues of Milt Jackson's "Bags' Groove."

Chestnut unleashed a more rollicking second set, opening in bebop mode with leapfrogged octaves that made "Yardbird Suite" pop with energy. He switched form with Jones' tranquil original, "In Search of a Quiet Place," and then delivered a Mozart-style intro for "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)."

The pianist's interpretations of "Lover," "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" were filled with rippling chord progressions and flurries of 32nd notes reminiscent of Art Tatum's sound of four hands playing. After "Blue Bossa" and Monk's "Blue Monk," the by-demand encore was a prayerful delivery of Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood," fully proving that Chestnut can play pretty or he can play hard, impressive in both styles.

Craig Handy's fiery tenor saxophone reflected his three decades of work, ranging from "In a Sentimental Mood" to "Bye-Ya." Early in the set, he reinvented the requisite tenor ballad, "Body and Soul," with pianist Cedric Chaveau playing sleekly lyrical as bassist Nicola Sabato (both from France) underscored the melody lines.

Midway through the first set, Handy kept the momentum going with unbroken segues that included his vocals on "Willow Weep for Me" and an original, "Baby Take a Chance with Me." His untamed style in the second set, playing "Cold Duck," "Straight, No Chaser" and George Coleman's "Amsterdam After Dark" seemed to please the crowd the most. Following his summer European tour, Handy will release an as-yet untitled CD later this year that features organ and sousaphone.

Paris expatriate pianist Kirk Lightsey staged an exciting quintet that opened with a 15-minute exploration of Ron Carter's abstract "81." Co-star of the set was Madrid expat Jerry Gonzalez, alternating on muted trumpet and five conga drums. Gonzalez, leader for 35 years of the Latin-jazz Fort Apache Band, reinforced Lightsey's high-energy keyboard style on the first two avant-garde charts.

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