Submitted on behalf of Paul Combs
Sunday July 8, 2001
The Tommy Gallant Jazz Festival traces its origins back many years to an earlier Portsmouth Jazz Featival which, in 1996, ceased to be viable. A group of musicians and jazz lovers volunteered to start the current festival and keep the yearly jazz celebration going. One of the founding members of this second group was the widely respected New Hampshire pianist Tommy Gallant. After Tommy's death in 1998 it was decided that the festival should be named for him, in honor of his life long service to the community, as a musician, an educator and a citizen. It should be said, for those reading this who are not acquainted with the New Hampshire seacoast, that Tommy Gallant was a superb pianist. Although he chose not to travel widely, great players from far and wide knew he was there and could count on the pleasure of his musical company when traveling to the Portsmouth area. Over the years he played, frequently, with some of the finest of jazz musicians including, Clark Terry, Frank Wess, Al Gray, Marshall Royal, Nick Brignola and Eddie Daniels, just to name a few.
It was a dark and cloudy day at Prescott Park..., but it did not rain, so the audience got to hear four excellent and diverse sets. First up was a trio of guitarist Howard Alden, vibraphonist Ed Saindon and bassist Marshall Wood, in a performance based loosely around the similar group that Rad Norvo lead in the early ‘50. Howard Alden brings more than a little authenticity to this project, since played with Novo in a later group. The tunes were all taken from the Norvo repertoire of standards and blues/rhythm changes based originals. All three of these players have long since established themselves and played well within the level of excellence one would expect of them. They varied the arrangements from song to song with considerable creativity, no small feat when you only have three instruments, and maintained a consistency of variety and surprise.
Some of the highlights of the Alden/Saindon/Wood set were Howard Alden's unaccompanied introductions, where one could fully appreciate his beautifully woody tone and harmonic inventiveness. Marshal Wood's solid, swinging support and graceful solos were so consistent that it is hard to single out a particular solo, he was simply superb throughout. Ed Saindon, whom I had never heard live before, was definitely "in the zone." His solos were consistently hot and his solo performance of "Black Orpheus" was breathtaking.
Next was a stylistically contrasting set by Matt Langley and the band Colors. Langley, who makes his home in Portsmouth, but has toured nationally with the Charlie Kolhase Quintet and Either/Orchestra, is a fine saxophonist with a deep knowledge of jazz styles and practice. Colors, which is a cooperative effort with the Decato brothers, keyboardist Chris and drummer Jamie, has been active for the last five or six years and naturally its members have developed that wonderful empathy that only comes from performing together over a long period of time. They were joined by a "ringer" for this concert, young and up-coming New Hampshire bassist Nate Edgar, who managed to fit right in.
Colors opened their set with a rollicking "Blues for Mr. Hagans," dedicated to trumpeter Tim Hagans. Colors draws a great deal on the dance grooves of the blues, R&B and funk, and their next selection was a two chord vamp held together by a tightly arranged little tune. This gives the players a lot of free space, as it were, to roam in, but something to come home to, and they used both to good advantage. The set was not all modern dance grooves, however. Matt turned a lovely unaccompanied reading of an obscure Broadway tune, "Handful of Stars," that was dedicated to the older members of his family, with whom he had been visiting the night before. And there was another solo feature later on in the set for the bassist Nate Edgar in which he played Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat." Each of the Decato brothers was featured in various selections. Chris Decato, who plays a Fender Rhodes piano through a rotating Leslie speaker cabinet, coaxes many wonderful tone colors out of this instrument, and makes a good case for the recent resurgence of this keyboard. Jamie Decato drove the band with both solid time and plenty of fire throughout the set.