Keeping a Stageful of Stars to a Single Beat

The drummer Elvin Jones, who was the implacable rumble suffusing the John Coltrane Quartet, has been celebrating his 70th birthday at the Blue Note this week. In the opening set on Tuesday, with a front line full of guests, the musicians reveled in simple, profound minor-key dirges taken from the post-1960 Coltrane school of hypnotism.

For an hour, the better part of the set, the band played two pieces. Mr. Jones made beats roll and simmer, creating a lurking collective where most drummers would place one beat. Thudding intently as he lay back in the rhythm, he seemed like a sculptor lovingly packing clay onto the armature of his creation.

Important jazz musicians of the last 60 years in jazz were onstage: the trumpeters Harry (Sweets) Edison, Wynton Marsalis and Eddie Henderson, and the saxophonists Frank Foster, Sonny Fortune and Javon Jackson. It was a landmark show for the breadth of styles and histories in the horn players present.

This kind of situation can sometimes wind up flatfooted, with solos just becoming columns to prop up a piece of music, and the baton-passing ritual can overshadow the tune or the musicians themselves. But this group was excited, and the tunes of open design invited the musicians to fill them up and make them their own. Most important, Mr. Jones kept a grip on the rhythm section, and made constant adjustments to intensity and rhythmic patterns during each solo.

The audience heard one statement of individuality after another. Mr. Foster played long, gloriously fluid legato saxophone lines; Mr. Henderson jabbed at rhythmic ideas quickly and violently; Mr. Jackson played in an understated style; Mr. Marsalis coolly put melody first, his time measured and exact.

Mr. Fortune, with a strong, rich tone, was out for blood, ripping his way through hard-driving, crying solos that often wound up with harsh vocalizations at the top end of the horn.

He used the same approach on a flute solo. Mr. Edison, who led a small-group ballad later in the set, was at his recent best, making short notes swing, performing with a mischievous flair and economy. It was the rare example of an unrehearsed all-star performance that worked.

Mr. Edison will perform again tonight only. Mr. Jones will play through tomorrow with Mr. Fortune, Mr. Henderson, the pianist Carlos McKinney and the bassist David Williams, at the Blue Note, 131 West Third Street, Greenwich Village.

by Ben Ratliff
Source: The New York Times

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