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Terell Stafford Quintet: Tempe, AZ, May 10, 2013

Patricia Myers By

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Terell Stafford Quintet
Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe, AZ
May 10, 2013

Trumpeter Terell Stafford and his East Coast quintet delivered dynamic ensemble work and memorable solos in a concert on the theme, This Side of Strayhorn. A third of the evening's repertoire came from the leader's 2011 MAXJAZZ album of the same name, celebrating Duke Ellington's renowned colleague.

The three lesser-known Billy Strayhorn charts performed were from his small ensemble writing, rather than the more familiar Ellington orchestral hits. Surprisingly, there was no inclusion of "Lush Life," although that was included on Stafford's album. Instead, the audience was treated to a fresh perspective of the Strayhorn genius via other melodies.

Pianist/arranger Bruce Barth launched Strayhorn's languidly sensual "Lana Turner" as a platform for Stafford's slow burn and Tim Warfield's tenor sax smears, while acoustic bassist Rodney Whitaker created a stream of intense resonance. For the classic "Day Dream," Stafford switched to flugelhorn for an opening duet with Barth that reflected the spirit of Strayhorn's meditation, enhanced by Warfield's stunning cadenza. "Johnny Come Lately" was a contrast in change-up, Warfield working his bebop-informed soprano sax against the liquid fire of Stafford's horn, the eloquent Barth exploring changes during Whitaker's walking bass and drummer Dana Hall's bombastic polyrhythms.

The evening opened with trumpeter Lee Morgan's "Hocus Pocus," featuring Stafford triple-tonguing to Warfield's blazing tenor until the pair traded fours with Hall. Barth endowed each composition with his robust agility and graceful swinging style, never grandstanding during his solos.

The second set featured "Mia," a Stafford original that opened with a flugelhorn-tenor sax duo, Warfield playing vigorous fragments, then smoothly sinuous to contrast Stafford's burnished balladic delivery, while Barth seemed to leave no key untouched as he added layers of sound.

Before playing "Old Folks," which Stafford recorded on Taking Chances: Live at the Dakota (MAXJAZZ, 2007), he offered a series of historical references to people connected to Philadelphia, where he is artistic director of the newly formed Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia and is also director of Temple University's jazz studies program. First, he mentioned Philly-born Bill Cosby and his short-lived 1992 TV show, You Bet Your Life, which led to citing that show's musical director, Shirley Scott. Stafford met the organist in the early 1990s, when he sat in on jam sessions she led at Ortlieb's Jazzhaus, which prompted her to hire him and Warfield for her next tour.

Finally, he acknowledged a member of the audience, legendary Philadelphia organist Papa John DeFrancesco, who now lives and performs in Arizona. Stafford then inserted his Harmon mute for a pensive intro that verified his total control of his instrument, soon switching to open style and swinging with defined power. Barth inserted a muscular block-hands section as Whitaker walked his bass line and Hall alternated between sticks and brushes; it was a simple chart, perfectly played.

Morgan's "Yes I Can, No You Can't" closed the concert, the rhythm section digging in deep at first, then laying back during a remarkable Stafford-Warfield improvisational exchange for an ear-bending end to the evening. The concert was part of a continuing live-jazz series presented by the non-profit Lakeshore Music Inc. of Tempe, AZ.

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