Thursday, August 11, 2016

Preparing for the guitar-centric Indy Jazz Fest: Catching a couple of samples of club jazz

A fine guitar scene in Indianapolis today provides an apt context for celebrating the legacy of Wes Montgomery (1923-1968) in next month's Indy Jazz Fest.

Bill Lancton added a well-seasoned voice to the powerful quintet, Avenue Indy.
You can hear notable local guitarists frequently around town. I caught parts of two sets Wednesday evening in Indianapolis: Bill Lancton sat in with the Avenue Indy quintet at the Jazz Kitchen, and downtown at the Chatterbox, Joel Tucker performed with his brother Nick on bass and Kenny Phelps on drums.

A secondary motivation for my first stop was my initial exposure to Avenue Indy, a powerful mainstream ensemble with Jeff Conrad, trumpet and flugelhorn, and Rich Cohen, saxophones, in the front line and rhythm section consisting of pianist Gary Potter, bassist Jon Block, and drummer Larry Sauer. A highly charged performance of Chick Corea's "Spain," featuring a blistering alto solo by Cohen, preceded Lancton's welcome to the Jazz Kitchen stage, where he can often be heard.

Avenue Indy in action at the Kitchen (photo from its Facebook page)
Lancton's juicy, ringing tone was showcased in a rendition of a Carlos Santana piece with just the rhythm section. With the full quintet, a salute to Montgomery followed in the form of one of the master's most popular compositions, "Road Song." Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments" was vigorously limned, with some nice climactic touches in the drums.

After "In a Sentimental Mood," with Lancton and Conrad on their best ballad behavior, the ad hoc sextet reconvened for a Conrad original in tribute to the popular restaurant next door, "Yats Blues." New Orleans parade rhythms suffused the steamy piece, acknowledging the hometown of Yats proprietor Joe Vuskovich.

At the Chatterbox Jazz Club on Mass. Ave.,  the first set had attained a high level of commitment and energy by the time I got there. It was a thoroughly energized "Nardis" that confirmed  the rapport of this trio, with the veteran, widely respected drummer working hand-in-glove with two well-established (relative) newcomers, the Tuckers.

Joel Tucker has a leaner, more percussive tone leavened by a lyrical sensibility. He can noodle a bit, yet firm up his out-of-tempo inspirations to lead the ensemble superbly into the material, which is how the "Nardis" performance unfolded. All three took marvelous solos, capped by Phelps in an explosive frame of mind in the exchanges, yet still displaying his extraordinary control.

There was a grooving coda, instigated by Joel,  that his band mates caught on to immediately, moving the rendition to an even higher plane. It was about the best "Nardis" I've ever heard live.  Before finishing with an uptempo bebop standard, the trio handled with aplomb another kind of classic, Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are," unconventionally metered and spiced up with strong accents.

It was an abbreviated evening of jazz for me, but enough to confirm the healthy state of jazz guitar-playing on the local scene, with lots of compatible colleagues around to help showcase them. Bring on the Indy Jazz Fest!

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