Chris' Jazz Cafe
October 17, 2003
One of the biggests kicks in jazz is the discovery of fresh young talent, an artist you haven't heard yet, one who's saying something. I had that distinct pleasure in October when I heard tenor player Tim Armacost at Chris' Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia, and he tore it up.
Chris' is a pleasant intimate restaurant in The City of Brotherly Love that books a horn player who is somewhat well-known and pairs him with a local horn player and a local rhythm section. In this instance, Armacost fronted a quintet consisting of the excellent trumpeter John Swana, along with the Tony Micelli Trio, which consists of Micelli on vibes, Sanford Rast on bass, and Dan Monahan on drums. All but Swana were unknown to me before the gig.
The set I caught opened with "On Green Dolphin Strret", a real warhorse of a tune that these musicians turned into something fresh right from the gitgo. Armacost wasted no time as he constructed taut, unpredictable lines over a floating, highly interactive rhythm section. After two chorus, the band slammed into a searing medium-up 4/4 swing, and Armacost unfurled long lines with a strong, full, warm sound, a hint of Trane, a touch of Stitt, maybe a hint of Mobley, and all Armacost. He's an original. Swana was up next, playing crackling hard bop trumpet, with a very personal, burnished , and a lot of range. Micelli revealed himself to be a top-shelf vibes player with a ringing, declamatory sound, sparkling ideas, and a strong sense of swing. He sometimes plays octaves, and the effect is startling in the way all good jazz is. He sounds like no one else and he deserves to be much better known.
The next tune was "If I Were A Bell", in which Armacost again played a superb solo. He would played long lines of triplets against the rhythm section's smokin' 4/4 swing. He'd turn the beat around, soar into the upper register, bop as if his life depended on it, and never play a predictable phrase. Swana's solo kept things cookin', and Micelli was once again effervescent and creative. Meanwhile, Rast and Monahan kept up a powerful, almost telepathic swing. They were responsive to the soloists and to eachother, and Rast, besides keeping percolating time, took sevral fine solos. Monohan is a gifted young drummer, explosive, and above all, he listens.
Next up was "Body And Soul", given fresh life by Armacost, who played it in a medium 6/8 tempo. He played with considerable tenderness, displaying all the warmth inherent in his tone. As he continued, the intensity built, and Armacost's lines jabbed into the upper register. Swana, Micelli, and Rast also improvised impressively. To close out the set, Armacost and company gave a fresh twist to "What's New" by playing it as a fast samba instead of giving the tune its usual ballad treatment. Once again, all hands improvised with telling originality and no-holds-barred swing.
Clearly, Tim Armacost has arrived. He plays as powerfully as anybody in his generation. I can only hope we'll hear more from him, and from his bandstand companions. They played a world class set of jazz, and my joy was even more enhanced by the fact that my two sons, ages twelve and twenty, were with me, and they were digging it as much as I was.