Sunday, January 12, 2020

Indy Jazz Foundation ramps up impresario role with recording project, 'The Naptown Sound'

For two nights running this weekend, the Jazz Kitchen played host to a gathering of many of the top musicians in Central Indiana to showcase "The Naptown Sound."

The umbrella term may suffice to build interest in a recording that's set to emerge from four sets Friday and Saturday, with sponsorship from Indianapolis Jazz Foundation and Yats, the local Creole restaurant chain whose mother ship has long docked just south of the jazz club on College Avenue. Certainly the live performances themselves must have advanced the cause.

Attending the first set Saturday, I found there was just enough design to the program, but not too much to seem to inhibit spontaneity of either performance or response. The Indy Jazz Collective got things going, with its flexible size pretty much at a comfortable maximum. The front line of leader Rob Dixon and Sophie Faught, tenor saxes, trombonist Freddie Mendoza and trumpeter/flugelhornists Marlin McKay and Mark Buselli, made sturdy work of "Millions," composer Dixon's wry, hard-grooving tribute to casinos and the millions of dollars that vanish there.

With a rhythm section of Steve Allee, Nick Tucker, and Carrington Clinton, the ensemble shored up the end of each solo with a repeated tag, propelling the next individual statement. The tune has had widespread exposure  thanks to "Coast to Crossroads," Dixon's 2018 trio recording with Charlie Hunter and Mike Clark.

Pianist Allee brought to the stage a tasty blend of adventurous harmonies and funky feeling. The veteran bandleader-pianist later headed a group in a romp through his original, "Yummy," a tune with lots of space in it. The performance featured a typically appealing Dixon solo. The backing for McKay's ruminative flugelhorn solo was smoothly understated, yet insistent, from Jon Wood's bass guitar and Kenny Phelps' drums. Adjustment that showcased soloists well seemed to come naturally to this band.

Wood's sound and well-articulated lines enhanced the guitar triumvirate paying tribute to Wes Montgomery with the demigod guitarist's "Road Song."  The guitarists — Ryan Taylor, Joel Tucker, and Charlie Ballantine — showed both their distinctiveness and respect for the sainted master. Also making the memorial connection come alive was the elaborate  zest of Kevin Anker's organ-playing.

The Tucker Brothers' quartet: Nick (from left), Joel, Sean Imboden, and (hidden behind Imboden) Brian Yarde.
A pickup band of distinction proved to be the Ball State Connection, which in jazz studies director Buselli's "The Trouble With Triplets," evoked the relaxed swing of classic hard bop. The composer's plunger-muted solo was a highlight of the performance.

Some grounding in bop was evident in the Tucker Brothers' appearance. The quartet has been remarkably cohesive in a series of recordings and frequent concert dates over the past several years. They proved their mettle in the tricky "Rhythm Change," notable for a fleet, well-integrated guitar solo by Joel Tucker.

Another highlight on the occasional reflective side of the set was Sophie Faught's duo with Allee in her shapely ballad "Song of the Snow Belt." That was immediately preceded by Jared Thompson leading his own sax charge at the head of his quartet, Premium Blend. The band opened space near the end for an exuberant accompanied solo from drummer Yarde. The other vitality-infusing members are keyboardist Steven Jones and guitarist Taylor. The set closed with one of the Naptown Sound program's successful blends (also premium, you might say), a blues also bringing Taylor, Wood, Clinton, and Anker to bear on the mood of celebration.

[Photo by Rob Ambrose]

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