Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Bit more Ellington jazz matinee

It's unusual when a band becomes its own warmup act, but that's what happened when multi-instrumentalist Greg Nielsen's quintet performed in the South County Jazz Club's matinee series at the Venice FL At Center.

Nielsen's band - with the leader on trombone, flugelhorn and soprano sax, Tom Ellison on reeds, Eddie Tobin on piano, Mark Neuenschwander on bass and David Pruyn on drums - featured a few gems during the opening set, including saxophonist Don Menza's lovely bossa nova "Faviana."
Bit Risner

For the second set, which Nielsen called "The Ellington Hour," audience members could be forgiven if they forgot what great music had already transpired. Nielsen's special guest for the next hour-plus was trumpeter Bit Risner. Nielsen, a longtime music educator, has been a mentor to her since Risner was 9. She was a mainstay in Sarasota's globetrotting youth band, Jazz Juvenocracy. Now she's 18 and will follow the other Jazz Juvie alumni to college in the fall.

Risner has the poise and polish of a pro, solid trumpet chops and soulful vocals.

Nielsen, Risner, Ellison

For the final set, the band played vintage tunes from the Duke Ellington Songbook that Nielsen had arranged for Jazz Juvenocracy. They included "Cotton Club Stomp," "Black and Tan Fantasy," "Perdido," "St. Louis Toodle-O," "Take the A Train," the blues "Rocks in My Bed" (one of Bit's two vocal features), "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart," and "It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing)."

"Concerto for Cootie," written for Ellington trumpeter Cootie Williams, was a splendid spotlight piece for Risner. Similarly "Isfahan," a Johnny Hodges feature from Ellington and Billy Strayhorn's "Far East Suite," showcased Ellison's alto sax mastery. The sextet closed the afternoon with Duke's most requested composition, "Mood Indigo."

The Nielsen/Risner collaboration drew a record crowd of more than 155 to the venue. Supplemental seating spilled out into two hallways, and there were also a few standing wherever they could find a spot. What a splendid way to open the 2015 portion of the club's concert season.
Tobin, Nielsen, Risner, Ellison, Neuenschwander, Pruyn

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