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Tim Warfield’s All-Star Jazzy Christmas at Tempe Center for the Arts

Patricia Myers By

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Tim Warfield's All-Star Jazzy Christmas
Tempe Center for the Arts
Tempe, Arizona
December 20, 2014

A top-level East Coast jazz sextet performed a concert that reinvented holiday-season favorites with jazzy improvisations as part of the monthly Lakeshore Music series. Saxophonist Tim Warfield led a strong contingent that featured trumpeter Terell Stafford, vibraphonist Stefon Harris, pianist Cyrus Chestnut, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Chris Beck, plus guest vocalist Joanna Pascale.

The program included traditional, religious and pop charts, from "O Christmas Tree" and "Silent Night" to "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town" and "Let It Snow," each chart reinvented to showcase the ensemble. Warfield created this touring seasonal program several years ago, and in 2012 recorded Tim Warfield's Jazzy Christmas. Sparked by the two strong horn players, the arrangements were newly bright and far less trite than the originals, and the audience in the sold-out house obviously enjoyed the remakes.

Warfield alternated between tenor and soprano saxophones, fiery on tenor, often delivering staccato-punctuated phrases, his soprano style more chromatic and angular. Stafford's solos enhanced each style with bright solo streams and floods of triplets, interchanging trumpet and flugelhorn related to the mood he wanted to convey.

Harris repeatedly let loose with blazing two-and four-mallet bebop progressions that were blurs to behold. While staying true to the melody progressions, he was ferociously powerful and fiercely inventive. Whitaker and Beck filled the roles of steady-Freddys, underpinning and reinforcing the fresh dissections of age-old charts. Pascale proved to be a song stylist with an impressive range, taking the familiar and simple melodies into a new dimension.

Chestnut's solos were alternately lightning-fast or deeply rich, his muscular piano prowess a captivating sight. At times, his formidable left-hand rendered a reworked melody line, and then his right would blaze along the piano's treble range in clusters of 16th and 32nd notes. The unbilled star of the show was the 9-foot Ravenscroft grand piano, built locally by Spreeman Piano Innovations, taking more than 1,000 hours to construct from imported woods and titanium parts. The resulting sound was a singing treble, clear midrange and lush bass tones that emitted an exceptional range of dynamics. The piano was donated to the arts center by pianist The Bob Ravenscroft Trio and his wife, Gretchen, via their Jazzbird Foundation.

The monthly series continues through May, producer Woody Wilson booking both national and international artists, including the piano duo of Renee Rosnes and Bill Charlap next on Feb. 28.

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