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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Septet celebrates famed jazz label’s 70th year

    Ravi Coltrane, tenor saxophonist on the Blue Note Records tour, plays at Centennial Hall in celebration of the jazz labels 70th anniversary last Friday night.
    Ravi Coltrane, tenor saxophonist on the Blue Note Records tour, plays at Centennial Hall in celebration of the jazz label’s 70th anniversary last Friday night.

    A circular field of empty seats, as if a swather had taken a lap in the center of Centennial Hall, dominated the view of Friday night’s Blue Note 7 concert. For an event honoring the 70th anniversary of Blue Note Records, it was a surprising sight to see.

    The septet, led by pianist Bill Charlap, performed a set that honored the label’s legends and its rich catalogue, but did so without playing it too safe. The group chose less familiar cuts from such celebrated names as Herbie Hancock, Lee Morgan and Joe Henderson.

    As the evening progressed, each performer revealed their own sense of style while the group itself demonstrated a remarkably tight set, despite having existed for less than a year.

    Ravi Coltrane, son of John and Alice Coltrane, ably lived up to the family name with his often-literally physical performance. During each of his solos, Ravi bent his knees and leaned backwards as his tenor sax blazed a path into each song’s theme. His body swayed to match the deep, rich tone of his chord explorations. The audience responded to each of his stints at center stage with enthusiasm.

    Coltrane wasn’t the only musician bringing a sense of physicality to the evening. On Cedar Walton’s “”Mosaic”” – the set’s last song – Charlap pounded the piano with his entire body and spring from his bench for each burst of notes and silence. His legs and arms refused to stay still for longer than a moment. These movements complemented the song’s hard bop rhythm, and belied the pianist’s harmonic team spirit out of the spotlight throughout the night.

    The jazz guitar can often be overshadowed by the concert-stealing roles of trumpet and saxophone. Guitarist Peter Bernstein showed that, in the right context, the instrument should not be underestimated. He brought a sensitive execution and warm sound to Duke Pearson’s blues song, “”Idle Moments.””

    Centennial Hall ,thankfully, provided an acoustic environment that allowed Peter Washington to come through strong and clear throughout the evening. The bassist provided solid rhythmic support, and his virtuosic, introductory solo on “”Inner Urge”” was reason enough to allow the rest of the septet to stand back and enjoy.

    Trumpeter Nicholas Payton was the polite person at the party who would cut loose at the first opportunity. He favored playing with dynamics, lulling the audience with his steady tone before leaping up to the upper register and shouting to the back of Centennial Hall. Payton brought this exuberance to Joe Henderson’s appropriately titled song “”Inner Urge,”” through an arrangement by the trumpeter himself.

    Nicholas Payton was the big draw for Tucson resident Patrick Moore, 45. “”I came to specifically see Nicholas Payton, who did a great arrangement on ‘Inner Urge,'”” Moore said.

    Moore, who attended the concert with his wife Traci, added, “”I thought (Nash) was holding back. He was the youngest one there and could easily show off but didn’t. The drummer was the star of the show, especially when he started drumming in an African style with his hands.””

    The show-stopping performance of the evening came from Phoenix-born drummer Lewis Nash during the encore, which ended the night in high spirits. The musicians brought their best to Lee Morgan’s “”Party Time,”” a song that brought out a palpable energy from the audience that increased with each solo.

    Nash was the last to take his turn and he more than met the bar set by the others. Nash’s hands and brushes became a blur, and the sound took on a tribal feel before he launched into an impromptu, call-and-response scatting with Washington that caught everyone off guard.

    Phyllis Wood, who has been friends with Nash for 23 years and regularly attends his New York concerts, said, “”I saw him a month ago and he wasn’t doing (the scatting) then. I talked to his sister recently and found out that he sang privately all his life. But this was the first time he scatted publicly.”” His debut as a scat singer Friday night promised new avenues of musical exploration for the drummer.

    After a few choruses, Nash then signaled with a nod of his head that it was time to rejoin the party, and everyone came back like gangbusters to end the night.

    Unfortunately, there was an overarching sense of reverence to the entire concert that, at times, muted each member’s full range of abilities.

    Moore said, “”It seemed pre-arranged to a large degree. The great art of jazz is that in small clubs, the performers can see that the audience is getting bored so they can switch to something different. For a concert like this, where the songs are most likely handpicked by Blue Note, you’re missing an element of jazz – the improvisation.””

    Given the occasion, such care and respect was to be expected.

    In interviews members have indicated that the septet, while formed in preparation of Blue Note’s momentous anniversary, may continue as a group. Hopefully the next time it comes into town, a larger welcoming committee will be present to surprise the septet.

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