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Oliver Lake and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound at the Painted Bride

Victor L. Schermer By

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Bobby Zankel's Warriors of the Wonderful Sound
Special Guest Oliver Lake
The Painted Bride
Philadelphia, PA
November 4, 2015

This was the second of three events in which Philadelphia's Warriors of the Wonderful Sound brought on musically diverse special guest artists to perform with them, following a highly successful similar series last season. The first concert of the present series featured tenor saxophonist Odean Pope and multi-talented entertainer and artist Raphael Xavier.

For this concert, alto saxophonist Oliver Lake joined the group. The AllMusic website aptly describes Lake as "an explosively unpredictable soloist, somewhat akin to Eric Dolphy in the ultra-nimble manner in which he traverses the full range of his main horn, the alto. Lake's astringent saxophone sound is his trademark —piercing, bluesy, and biting..." Among his many and varied accomplishments as an avant-garde artist, Lake is especially known for his work with the Black Artists' Group, the World Saxophone Quartet, and his current Trio 3 with bassist Reggie Workman and drummer Andrew Cyrille.

The concert featured leader and alto saxophonist Bobby Zankel's compositions for the Warriors, in his unique arrangements which fuse bebop and avant-garde into highly charged and endlessly inventive pieces that sound as if Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman had stretched the Charles Mingus big band into "the shape of things to come," with super-tight ensemble playing, dense harmonic structures and exciting, ground-breaking solos by the exceptional musicians who comprise this ensemble. Lake did not try to blend in with such a phenomenon. Rather, his solos stood in stark contrast to the Warriors. He played in short, discrete phrases with the astringent sound mentioned above, and worked the entire range of his instrument with sharpness and clarity. His lines incorporated modal playing, atonality, abrasive dissonances, and intervalic leaps in an individualistic way as if having an emotional conversation with himself. Amazingly, the contrast worked! Zankel's arrangements have an uncanny way of assimilating almost any soloist's approach into the mix. So Lake could go his own way and yet maintain an interesting dialectic with the group.

The set consisted of Zankel compositions frequently performed by the group, with one new piece. The evening began with "The Next Time I See You," long familiar to Warriors fans as a song Zankel wrote in memory of Wayne Shorter's wife Anna Maria, who died in the TWA Flight 800 catastrophe. This incarnation of a song filled as much with the power of resurrection as with grief was delivered with a hard-riding Latin sound. Solos by valve trombonist John Swana, pianist Tom Lawton, Zankel, drummer Craig McIver, and Lake got the flame going. McIver, a top shelf drummer to begin with, was in top form, maintaining strong momentum.

Another Warriors "standard," "Spirits Break to Freedom," which has been choreographed for a dance theater ensemble, continued the high energy level. Following a solo by Lake in which he showed his own freedom by ascending in flight to the highest range, the group broke out into a syncopated "fascinatin'" rhythm. Solos by baritone saxophonist Mark Allen and trumpeter (and flutist) Stan Slotter mirrored Lake's excursions in the low and high registers and added their specific sonorities to the sound palette.

"Continuance" is a new composition which Zankel dedicated to Eric Dolphy, although it might be hard to tell that from the music itself. The arrangement rather had the bright flavor of some Kenton-inspired European and UK big bands. Lawton's solo received nuanced support from McIver, while trumpeter Josh Lawrence was brilliant in both sound and conception. Zankel captured the Dolphy trademarks in his solo, which was followed by a phenomenal post-Coltrane solo by alto saxophonist Julian Pressley, who has taken Trane's "sheets of sound" to the next level of seamless unfolding. As if that weren't enough, bassist Lee Smith, in a surprising turn in the road, delivered several choruses in a stunning blues/soul mode deriving from his latest album, My Kind of Blues (Vectordisk, 2015). It was one of those special moments in jazz when something entirely unexpected emerges that lends a perfect touch.

Zankel is often inspired by mythology as in "Ndura: The Forest is our Father and Mother" which featured solos by Lawrence, Pressley, Lake, Larry Toft on slide trombone, and an experimental foray by percussionist Francois Zayas using sticks on congas. In the middle of all that, violinist Diane Monroe delivered a rocking, raise-the- roof solo that could have been entitled "A Brief History of the Jazz Violin."

The concert concluded with Zankel's grizzly ballad, "Trickster," which Zankel said he dedicated to one of his mentors, leaving it to the audience to discern who it was. Based on the head, which sounded like a re-write of "A Lonely Woman," this reviewer guessed it was the late Ornette Coleman who received the honor.

The Warriors' next show at Painted Bride will take place on the evening of December 2nd with special guest alto saxophonist and composer, Steve Lehman.

Set List: The Next Time I See You; Spirits Break to Freedom; Continuance; Ndura; Trickster.

Personnel: Oliver Lake: special guest, alto saxophone; Bobby Zankel, leader, alto saxophone; Julian Pressley, alto saxophone; Mark Allen, baritone saxophone; Diane Monroe, violin; Josh Lawrence, trumpet; Stan Slotter, trumpet, flute; John Swana, valve trombone; Larry Toft, trombone; Tom Lawton, piano; Lee Smith, bass; Craig McIver, drums; Francois Zayas, percussion.
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