|Veteran bandleader and superlative trombonist John Fedchock|
On Sunday night, it was the John Fedchock New York Sextet on the bandstand for one generously proportioned set. Led by a highly respected trombonist whose New York Big Band has long been a magnet for the top players in that perpetual jazz center, the small group shows the same sense of scale, balance, and inspiration as the large ensemble.
The arrangements were illuminating and well-grounded, and the solos followed suit. That was evident from the opening number on — "This Just In" (a tune built on the harmonic structure of "Just in Time"; a contrafact, as the bandleader explained). I especially liked the logical progress of tenor saxophonist Tom Christensen's solo, and the neat yet adventurous episode trading eights between drummer Dennis Makrel and the front line (trumpeter Mike Rodriguez in addition to Fedchock and Christensen).
Whether reconstructing such a standard or building a fresh approach to an original melody, Fedchock's arrangements displayed zest and cohesiveness. His setting of "Nature Boy," played without the introduction, was something you could sink your teeth into. Concise solos were distributed around the band, with the trombonist offering the first of several marvelous statements. His agility and fertile imagination rolled out time and time again: The trombone line leapt between registers with ease and sometimes packed in well-timed filigree. You had the feeling you could look at a transcript of a Fedchock solo, and if no name were attached to it and it were displaced an octave higher, you'd have a hard time guessing the instruments or the player.
The whole band naturally produced fresh perspectives, as in Fedchock's "Not-So-New Blues," for which bassist Dick Sarpola set the tone, telling a story according to the Lester Young gospel. The performance also featured a witty piano solo by Allen Farnham, a Fedchock associate for over 20 years, and a characteristically tasteful and inviting one by Rodriguez. And though it's somewhat formulaic, here and elsewhere in the set, there were exchanges with the drummer that invariably displayed the men's ability to say something cogent in miniature.
With Rodriguez picking up the flugelhorn, the band presented a gentle close-order drill in Fedchock's arrangement of Tom Harrell's "Moon Alley," the harmonies glowing right through the repeated final phrase. I was also struck by the leader's setting of "Days of Wine and Roses," which had an uncanny big-band feel to its voicings, yet was perfectly well-designed for this six-piece group.
I took exception only to the Fedchock version of "Giant Steps." It seemed a tricky revision of the John Coltrane original, and it lost me much of the way. The tune's famous shifts of harmony sounded blurred in a rather glib rethinking of the tune. Maybe I'm a 21st-century version of a "moldy fig," but I kept missing the classic approach to the piece in which its harmonic low hurdles are easily cleared by good players, but at least evident. Some of the soloing suited what I'll admit might have been my onrush of nostalgia: Christensen evoked the seminal Coltrane style, and Farnham's solo settled for a while into a left-hand pattern reminiscent of McCoy Tyner's in the Coltrane quartet hit "My Favorite Things." Finally, Mackrel seemed to be channeling some of Elvin Jones' rhythmically spread manner in his solo. After all this, the outchorus made more sense. Yet I'm tempted to retitle Fedchock's "Giant Steps" something like "Giant Glides."
But this response amounts to one muted raspberry amid my huzzahs for this expert group and gratitude for my good fortune in hearing it live.
[Photo: Chris Drukker]