The biggest local jazz story of the week is the sad news that Columbus saxophone legend Gene Walker passed away Monday at the age of 76. Walker was an esteemed performer, bandleader, and educator who entertained and inspired generations of jazz musicians and fans. A proper tribute is forthcoming here, but for now we wish to send our sincerest condolences to his family and friends. Rest in Peace, Gene.
Some Jazz Days Out
I was fortunate to catch multiple sets on both Friday and Saturday afternoons of the 2014 Jazz & Rib Festival. My most anticipated band on Friday was the Brandon Coleman Quartet out of Cincinnati. Guitarist/composer Coleman has paired his fluid and exciting playing with a crack rhythm section (pianist Keigo Hirakawa, bassist Matt Wiles, and drummer Jeff Mellott) to excellent effect. The group played all originals (except for a cover of an obscure Japanese pop song that blended in seamlessly), touching on some of the highlights of their 2013 album Decisions and presenting brand new tunes by Coleman and Hirakawa. While most of the tunes came from a mellow-ish base, the band would build in drama and volume behind the soloists to create attention-grabbing peaks. Days-old songs like Coleman’s “Hawk’s Choice” and Hirakawa’s “Unmarked Path” felt just about as comfortable as the band’s older repertoire, showing a unit that has gelled well. Bassist Wiles was the musician I most enjoyed watching at the festival. While his expressions showed more focus when soloing, his face was almost always full of joy as he ecstatically thumped out his oft-thunderous parts. Without horns, vocalists, or other frills, the Quartet showed how to build excitement through skilled compositions and cohesive, virtuosic playing. Catch them when you get a chance.
My Friday afternoon also included most of the set by Asheville, NC group Jonathan Scales Fourchestra, which is actually a three-piece (Scales blamed “North Carolina math” on the discrepancy). Scales is a wiz on the steel pans/drums, and with bassist Cody Wright and drummer Phil Bronson, the trio banged out some worldly funky jazz. Scales stated his mission to move the pans out of the “Caribbean/cruise ship” pigeonhole and showed why he is successful, blending a variety of influences and interests into modern tunes and pop covers. A highlight was “Lurkin,'” dedicated to Bela Fleck, which featured Bronson using a Home Depot-brand 1’x6′ piece of wood for a snare while the others grooved hard. On my way home, I managed to catch a few tunes by local veterans Hoo Doo Soul Band, who weren’t heavy on jazz content but showcased top-notch ensemble horn-playing and a fine solo by saxophonist Kevin O’Neill on the funky “Shake Whatcha Got.”
My Saturday festival-going was more scattered, but I still caught some great performances. Drummer Mark Lomax and his trio of saxophonist Eddie Bayard and bassist Brandon Meeks put a shine on their talented playing and classic jazz influences, including some educational intros from Lomax. Bayard’s “A Blues For Big Nick” featured an excellent solo from the saxophonist. The trio’s take on standard “You Don’t Know What Love Is” was one of the best ballads I’ve heard in a long time, with potential sappiness replaced by heartfelt emotion and mellow, smouldering parts from all of the players. Next was the From The Five Jazztet, playing in tribute to dearly departed Mark Flugge. Columbus expatriate Kim Pensyl sat in on trumpet, and the band conveyed a variety of moods with their renditions of Flugge tunes like “Action Planet” (with a fiery Cuban undercurrent) and “Not Just The Holidays” (Flugge’s tribute to Thelonious Monk).
Later, the Talisha Holmes Ensemble showcased the soulful R&B stylings of vocalist Holmes and a real ensemble cast, putting their own touch on “Fly Me To The Moon” and “I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues.” A group I discovered while previewing the fest last week was veteran Eddie Brookshire and his Quintet. To my surprise, this cookin’ outfit presented a second festival appearance by pianist Keigo Hirakawa, who was just as talented in this set that leaned closer to soul jazz. The band performed a sparkling version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Povo” (where trumpeter Mike Wade took on the lead role admirably) and also sounded great on tenor saxophonist Jack Novotny’s original “Potter’s Clay.” I wish I could have seen more acts, but my time at the 2014 fest was well spent.
Shows To See This Week
Friday, July 25th: Vernon Hairston Trio with Tia Harris Roseboro at Natalie’s. Pianist/vocalist Hairston and his trio (Reggie Jackson on drums and Dwight Bailey on bass) return to Natalie’s with soulful local vocalist Harris Roseboro. Expect the soulful side of jazz, with guest appearances from Milton Ruffin and Jerry Powell.
Saturday, July 26th: Playonbrother (Alan Evans Trio) at Brothers Drake. Playonbrother is the new name of the Alan Evans Trio, named after drummer Evans’ (Soulive, etc.) studio. The trio threw a loud and rollicking party at the meadery back in February, and this show should be no different. While Evans’ longtime organist Beau Sasser recently departed, he has been replaced ably by Kris Yunker and the band has apparently not missed a step. For proof, check out their new live EP here. Cover is only $5 for a fiery melting pot of jazz, rock, funk, and blues led by one of the top drummers playing today.
Wednesday, July 30th: Jazz Gallery Project at Eleven. Eleven, the bar connected to Hyde Park Steakhouse’s downtown location, is offering dinner jazz every Wednesday this summer, courtesy of the JGP. This local quartet mixes jazz, blues, and funk, with some quality original tunes and standards by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Cannonball Adderley, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Jimmy Smith, Etta James, and more.
Have a great week! Here’s a video of the Brandon Coleman Quartet performing “Hawk’s Choice” at the festival: