Friday, April 3, 2009

Fresh takes on jazz classics

Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Massachusetts is historic, elegantly preserved and remains a great contributor to the region’s arts vitality. Built in 1857 in the heart of central Massachusetts, it underwent a restoration more than 30 years ago to show off its acoustic and visual grandeur.

The Blue Note jazz catalog is just as historic to jazz fans, elegantly preserved since the label’s founding 70 years ago by German immigrants Alfred Lyon and Francs Wolff. And the Blue Note 7, an all-star band, is on the road celebrating the richness and vitality of the label’s great music.

Worcester’s April 1 concert that was the first stop in the East Coast final leg of the 50-city U.S. tour that winds up April 14 to 19 at Birdland in New York. And the setting was most appropriate given the venue and label’s shared qualities.

Steve Wilson, Nicholas Payton, Ravi Coltrane... >

Pianist and music director Bill Charlap, guitarist Peter Bernstein, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Peter Washington, and drummer Lewis Nash, put their own modernized touches on seven classic tunes written by jazz musicians associated with Blue Note. The fresh arrangements came from the septet members and Charlap’s wife, pianist Renee Rosnes.

Peter Washington, Lewis Nash... >

The hall swung mightily for 90-minutes as the band performed extended explorations of seven tunes: Horace Silver’s “The Outlaw,” Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance, Wayne Shorter’s “United,” McCoy Tyner’s “Search for Peace,” Cedar Walton’s “Mosaic” and an encore, Lee Morgan’s “Party Time.” The ensemble playing was always tight and the format gave the musicians abundant solo space.

Peter Bernstein, Nicholas Payton... >

The players kept their own musical identities, but also tipped their hats to clear influences from the 1950s and ‘60s Blue Note heyday – with strains of Lee Morgan and Clifford Brown, Jackie McLean and Art Blakey.

Rosnes’s updated arrangement of “Dolphin Dance” stretched the tune into a somewhat laid-back form that gave the players more space to mine new musical nuances from the classic Hancock hit. Cedar Walton wrote “Mosaic” for Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and this version featured arranger Nash’s most extended and bombastic drum solo of the evening.

Steve Wilson, Bill Charlap... ^

After the Birdland engagement, the band members take a break for their other individual projects. A European tour begins in the fall.

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