Darrell Grant's celebrating the national release of his new CD, Smokin' Java on Lair Hill Records. Pianist Grant was joined on this occasion at Smoke (where else?) in May, 2000 by Donald Harrison on alto sax, Joe Locke on vibes Dwayne Burno on bass and Billy Drummond on drums.
Smoke refers to the music, not tobacco. Although the owners, Frank and Paul allow smoking, this Jazz club is much more sophisticated than you'd think. There was a nice, listening crowd and the door was open.
The first tune was Monks "Bemsha Swing." With the piano and vibes doing call and response on the head, some well-composed phrasing made a smooth transition into the alto solo. Donald was really swinging, right from the start, a la Coltrane. The rhythm section was listening, punching ahead of the beat. It was a great sax solo, exciting and moving, and everyone was in sync. Joe took the next solo on vibes using riffs and quotes. He's got a good sense of rhythm, phrasing his eighth notes and triplets exactly where they belong. He bunt one pattern on top of the other, getting into it emotionally - in general an effective solo.
This is my first time hearing pianist Darrell Grant. He lives in Portland, Oregon these days, and collaborates with such musicians as Don Braden, Frank Morgan, and Greg Osby. Darrell's phrasing is really cool, very smooth with that old sense of bebop excitement. Dwayne, the bassist also has great ears and uses a lot of chromatics. When he left space during his solo, the piano and drums filled in sensitively. Mimicking ideas from the head, Dwayne took them through the circle of fifths. Following was a drum solo where Billy used a lot of polyrhythms.
After this, the band played an original called "Spring Skylight." This was a positive, uplifting, pretty tune. It had a 6/8 feel and a nice bass line written in, with kicks. But what made it move was the background from the bass and drums leading to an interlude. The piece finished with everyone improvising on two chords going into a clean, simple ending.
Darrell included storytelling along with his music. He introduced the beautiful ballad "If I Should Lose You" with a story, then played dense chords on the piano with lots of pedaling. Grant has a good understanding of passing chords and sounded a little like Art Tatum. He finished his solo with a bass ostinato, as a lead-in to the full band. They played the tune in a Latin groove, with the drums setting up a clean bossa nova. During Joe Locke's solo on vibes, the band members listened and comped while Joe raced away in double-time (he paused only to yell between phrases). In contrast the alto solo started in half-time, with Donald keeping a blues feel. Then it became mesmerizing, as he took it to a heavier level. The audience responded with screams and applause.
"Saturn's Child," a ballad written by Joe Locke, was done on solo vibes at first, with sustained notes and arpeggios. When the band joined in, the sound was reminiscent of MJQ.
The last piece was also by Locke, called ""Slander." The head was an up-tempo rock-samba beat in 6/8. Joe phrased the head so it ended with a break, then they went into a swing. This type of switching back and forth can add a lot of energy to a tune, giving it a refreshing change. The Latin 6/8 section is ripe for improvisation, and just when your ear begins to deceive you (with the soloist taking it "outside"), it switches into a swinging G minor blues. There was a great alto solo, followed by some theatrics by the piano. It was very inventive.
I enjoyed listening to the Darrell Grant quintet and in addition to "Smokin' Java," his other CDs are called "Black Art" (1994), "The New Bop" (1995) and "Twilight Stories" (1998).
June 2000 in the Apple is filled with Jazz festivals, keeping the music happening so fast that one can't keep up with it all. I attended one concert each of the Bell Atlantic and JVC Jazz Festivals, and also went to see New Orleans singer and talk-show host, JaRon Eames with his quartet.
Columbia University finally has a center for Jazz Studies and this bass and drum duo was featured as part of the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival. They started cooking immediately. Ron set up a vamp behind Joey's drum solo captivating the audience with a groove. Once he had everyone's attention, Ron started going into different key centers. What a beautiful tone. The syncopations and dynamics they used were interesting.
Ron walked a blues, with perfect intonation. He quoted "Now's the Time" in a low key solo. Ron made you listen for the changes and outlined them perfectly. Gradually Ron increased the tempo with Joey following acelerando poco a poco, then they went the other way, decelerando, until it was so slow that it became a rubato. This is esoteric stuff. After they played a really fast tempo again, Joey established a rock beat and the festival crowd was tapping its feet. There was a full crowd of mostly young people and the groove was happening. Making an ensemble out of a rhythm section takes a lot of talent. As exciting as it was, however, I felt it would have been even more so if they had several other instruments. They finished the set with Mile's "All Blues" and Monk's "Evidence."
This band had JaRon Eames on vocals, Gene Gee on tenor sax, Amy Quint Mignon on piano, Bob Cunningham on bass, and Walter Perkins on drums. Originally from New Orleans, JaRon Eames is a blues and Jazz singer who also hosts a weekly cable TV show in Manhattan. He started off the evening at Shutters with a blues medley. "Drink Muddy Water" and "Everyday I Have the Blues" were several of the selections. He had a swinging backup band and rhythm section that looked as good as they played. Amy, Bob, Walter and Gene wore tuxes, while JaRon wore a white suit.
Next was Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek." The piece was well arranged, with everyone reading parts. JaRon brings out a positive groove, he's a skillful entertainer. There was a mixed crowd and a nice atmosphere at the club. After "Cheek to Cheek," they did "Ain't Misbehavin'." JaRon was scatting in between his phrases, using dynamics. Gene's sax solo was smooth and swinging, and Amy, the pianist showed off her chops to good advantage.
"You're Not the Kind of a Girl for a Boy Like Me" is a worthy song, made famous by Sassy, and JaRon sang it with a good deal of feeling. The sax had some nice scales and riffs, but he wasn't as strong here as on the blues.
More blues put the entire band in its element. JaRon let them have it with "Stormy Monday," While the drummer banged away in triplets and the bassist kept a simple 4/4 walk. Bob took several choruses on bass, bowing with perfect intonation. A big surprise was Walter's drum solo. Holding the ride cymbal with one hand, he played a melody on it with one stick! I've never seen anything like it, one little eighth note at a time. The pianist got into it during her solo with tremolos and two-handed runs in double octaves.
The group was recording a CD at this occasion, and I was glad to be a part of that process. I had a chance to speak to Walter Perkins in between sets. The drummer really knows his music. He's worked with a lot of musicians, among them Ahmad Jamal, Carmen McRae, and Charles Mingus. I asked about his style of supporting the soloists with his driving swing. He answered, "I don't want to get in anybody's way, I just want to have some fun. Music, to me, is a matter of warmth. It doesn't matter who I'm playing with, as long as it's a team, with all of us playing together. It's like having a million dollars in your pocket when everybody's playing together and people are enjoying it. Ain't no one trying to outdo no one." I asked Walter about the solo he did with one cymbal. He said, "I did that on a couple of albums, one with Art Farmer and Jim Hall, the other Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. They were beautiful to work with. If I can help somebody in some way through my music, that's the secret to a long life."
Freddy had a quartet consisting of himself on piano and vocal, Jerry Byrd on guitar and Herman Burney on bass and Curtis Boyd on drums during stint at Sweet Basil's. As one of four brothers who were all Jazz musicians (the most famous of which is Nat "King" Cole), Freddy used to be a regular part of the Bradley's scene, which is where I last saw him perform. Guitar, bass and drums began the set with a quiet and unobtrusive version of "Yesterdays."
"All Too Soon." Freddy's first song, was a relaxed, easygoing swing. He plays the piano with ease and when he sings, his mellow voice booms out in a way that can't be caught on recordings: his personality is in the moment. Following was "Love Walked In," a nice interpretation that went straight to the bass solo after the head. The band added kicks during the piano solo, giving it a polished sound.
"It's So Strange" was played as a nice smooth bossa, with the band all playing tightly together. On "Blame It on my Youth," Freddy told a story just with voice and piano for the first chorus. His experience helps his phrasing to seem so natural, the words just flow right off him. "I Concentrate on You," was a faster swing with kicks sounding like "Dear Old Stockholm" at the beginning and the end of each chorus. Jerry played riffs on guitar over it. This was the most effective arrangement of the set.
"Once Upon a Summertime" was done as a ballad and a hush went over the audience. Again, there was a great guitar solo containing some beautiful ideas. "I'll be Seeing You" was laid back, which is what we need more of in this day and age.
by Lucy Galliher
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