Friday, November 5, 2021

Finding some normalcy in mainstream swing

After a pandemic pause dating to late February 2020, producer Morrie Trumble's Jazz With Morrie concert series opened a new season on Friday, November 5 in Venice FL with music excellence and positive vibes in this "new normal" phase.

Tenor saxophonist Jim Wellen performed with three other Southwest Florida jazz notables: guitarist Dave Trefethen, bassist-singer Vince Evans and drummer Johnny Moore. All brought much to the table for this welcome musical feast.

Wellen is a master of the swing tenor, who is equally comfortable exploring ballads, sambas and occasional pieces with a bit more fire. The octogenarian does so with an ease that comes from decades of immersing himself in the jazz repertoire. The first time I heard him 10 years ago, I thought to myself "this guy sounds like he could be Scott Hamilton and Harry Allen's (musical) uncle." Friday's concert at the Emmanuel Lutheran Church, reinforced that notion.

Jim Wellen

Wellen & Co. treated the audience of about 100 musical souls to a wide range of treats over two hours: ballads, chestnuts from the jazz and Great American Songbook repertoires, some bossa novas, and even a couple of nods to the hard-swinging jazz big band tradition. The latter started right out of the gate with Freddie Green's "Corner Pocket," a Count Basie Orchestra staple.

Evans, a rock-solid bassist with a deep, rich sound on his instrument, was featured on three vocal numbers as well: "Don't Worry 'Bout Me," "Route 66" and one of his favorites, "Old Folks." He put his own fine imprint on each.

Vince Evans
The leader mixed and matched tunes with different combinations of players within the quartet, and they were some of the matinee's highlights:

  • Wellen and Moore, a tasty drummer who never overplays, teamed up for a shuffle-beat-powered duo version of Horace Silver's "The Preacher."
  • Wellen and Trefethen took a similar duo approach on a Django Reinhardt medley that included the gypsy guitarist's "Django's Castle" and "Nuages." It showcased Trefethen's gorgeous tone, melodic ideas and sophisticated harmonies.
  •  Wellen and Evans played a low key sax and bass duet on "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." 
  • Wellen, Moore
    After intermission, Wellen and Trefethen teamed again on "Send in the Clowns," the Stephen Sondheim composition that Sarah Vaughan turned into a jazz vocal classic. As the tune's last notes faded, Evans told the audience: "I've heard a lot of tenor players. Nobody plays prettier than that."
Wellen, Trefethen
One of the more interesting pieces was the band's take approach to the Billy Strayhorn composition "Take the A Train."  We usually hear this Duke Ellington band classic as a roaring, uptempo arrangement. On this day, Wellen treated us to a softer, more laid-back approach that underscored its melodic beauty.

Trumble's South County Jazz With Morrie series succeeded the defunct South County Jazz Club in presenting concerts in the Venice area, just south of Sarasota. 

With one of the other principal venues (the Glenridge Performing Arts Center) closed for renovations this season, Trumble is presenting all of his concerts at Emmanuel Lutheran Church and the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Venice.

Next up: Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo at UUCOV on Sunday, November 14.

Johnny Moore, Vince Evans, Dave Trefethen, Jim Wellen


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