Fun weekend. Here are a few of the moments that refuse to leave my mind.
We all know he’s one of those “pure imagination” cats, but the drummer was truly on his game at a show that kicked-off Sunday morning’s action. He’s usually got a wild card up his sleeve, and in this case it was a kid’s bubble-making machine that was supposed to add some visual fun to his spin on a Carl Sandburg poem. It was too windy and the soapy spheres weren’t shooting out, and as his double quartet provided some truly luminous sounds, he rolled with the flow and silently mouthed a message to the audience: “Imagine bubbles.” It was a cinch to do so. Wilson always makes everything ultra vivid.
I stood behind the drummer and looked into the crowd. One guy was biting his nails, another fidgeting in his seat. Powering David Binney’s Third Occasion ensemble, Blade turned a wealth of rhythmic subtleties into a surge of sound that was always in flux. When a cymbal crash finally punctuated a passage, it was borderline frightening.
The pianist is often locked into his keys when he’s on stage, and this was no different. But his slippery storm of notes, forever moving from register to register, was a study in daring, and his mates – bassist Joe Morris and saxophonist Marshall Allen – got all the inspiration they needed from his rumbling volcano approach.
George Wein Calls “The Mooche”:
“We’ve played it before, but we never rehearsed it,’ said the impressario/pianist during a gig with his Newport All Stars, and the somewhat informal romp through Ellington’s jewel took shape moment by moment, with a gaggle of horns – everyone from Harry Allen to Randy Sandke to Anat Cohen – finding a harmony to use on the head and some elbow room to stretch a bit. Melodies like this generate goose bumps, and the group’s easy-going attitude was key to the vibe.
Nothing new about jazz bandleaders doing non-jazz tunes, but some covers fit better than others. The trumpeter’s Brass Ecstasy ensemble seemed wonderfully built for a saunter through Hank Williams‘ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” and as the leader starting telling us about the moon going behind a cloud, I swear I heard Marcus Rojas‘s tuba making like a forlorn steel guitar.