Newport Jazz Millenium Celebration

The Wharton Center - East Lansing, MI


March 28, 2000

By Mark Ladenson


Tuesday night, 3/28, the Newport Jazz Millenium Celebration (a George Wien endeavor) hit the Wharton Center in East Lansing. Forgot to ask Mike beforehand if he was planning to go--Mike were you there? Also, I assumed I had some leftover fast film from the Chicago Jazz Festival of 6 months ago. Nothing between then and now to use that film on except that Wycliffe Gordon concert last November. So at 5:30 I was surprised to discover I didn't have any film, and the result was I went without my camera. Really felt like something was missing, and I did miss a chance to get some good shots of Lew Tabackin.

But anyway...this aggregation consisted of the current Nicholas Payton quintet--Tim Warfield, Anthony Wonsey, Sean Conly, and Adonis Rose, along with Lew Tabackin, Randy Brecker, Cedar Walton, Howard Alden, and a trombonist whose name I may have heard before once or twice, Joel Helleny. This entire group, with Walton on piano, only played together for the opener--a minor key Strayhorn thing whose name I just couldn't think of, but realized as soon as I saw it in print on returning home, was "Johnny Come Lately"--; the closer, "Cottontail", whose duet between Tabackin and Warfield was one of the true highlights; and the encore, "Centerpiece."

The rest of the evening featured subsets of these players.

After the opener, Payton's remarks suggested that with jazz being 100 years old, this would be an evening devoted to an exposition of the stylistic evolution of jazz. And to that end, his quintet played Satch's "Wild Man Blues." But apart from Payton's monstrous Satch-like chops on the head statement, there was nothing in the way the piece was played that in any way made one think of pre-swing jazz sounds.

Payton, Warfield, and Wonsey left and were replaced by trombonist Helleny, Walton, and Alden. Helleny said "we've got a lot to cover so we'll have to give the USA Today version of the history of jazz. Louis Armstrong invented jazz in 1900. A lot of stuff happened. Horace Silver wrote 'Nica's Dream' in 1956. We're going to play 'Nica's Dream.'" I thought this bizarre on a number of counts. As for the "history of jazz", that was obviously a joke. But in the program notes I learned that Helleny is among that group of players now in their 40s--Alden, Dan Barrett, Warren Vache, Scott Hamilton, Ken Peplowski--who came on the scene as 20-somethings playing the pre-bop style of the '30s. So a quintessentially hard bop piece (the original recording may be my single favorite hard bop recording) by Helleny and Alden sure wasn't what I was expecting. But Helleny stretched out and I have to say I thought his playing was appropriate to the piece. I still am skeptical about rhythm guitar with hard bop though.

These five were joined by Lew and Randy for "Moten Swing" which was just OK. Alden, alone with Conly and Rose did Django's "_Manoir de mes Reves_", which he said means "Castle of my Dreams." I don't know "_manoir_." Jacques, Sonia, Michel, is that correct?

The first half highlight was probably Lew with Cedar, Conley and Rose doing "Autumn Nocturne." Lew, of course, ends his features with the kind of unaccompanied free-associating that Sonny Rollins sometimes does in his live performances--but even before he got to that I was reminded of an unforgettable set at the '88 ChiJzFst which Sonny ended with "Autumn Nocturne." The first half of _this_ concert ended with Lew switching to his gold flute and Brecker joining for "Night in Tunisia."

The second half began with a bass intro. I was impressed with Conly throughout but was not engaged by this music. And I have to say the same for the first half of Warfield's solo--a storm of notes but no real harmonic or melodic interest. Midway through the solo, however, there was a change, and I started to hear some harmonic movement--maybe just an augmented blues. As Payton and Wonsey took their solos and did some playing together I found myself thinking, "this sure sounds like the stuff Miles' second great quintet recorded" (allowing of course for the fact that it's hard to imagine two more different trumpet sounds than those of Miles and Payton--each great in their own very different ways). Sure enough, the piece turned out to be Shorter's "Paraphernalia." I'm not dating myself, since everyone knows I'm 100, when I mention that I got that _Miles in the Sky_ album when it first came out.

Payton's quintet followed with something radically different. An original funky piece named for a New Orleans piano player (I think Payton said) and called "Zippeboogalu" (as close as I can render it). Then Payton accompanied only by Wonsey did a short "Polka Dots and Moonbeams"; pretty much straight melody with little embellishments. Although he compared very favorably to Clifford Brown on this, I have to say that I enjoyed this quintet's New Year's Eve performance on NPR more than what they did Tuesday night.

Cedar came out and did a solo medley of "Lush Life" and "Daydream." Like so many boppish players, when they do solo, he went into what I'd call a modern stride style, sparer than the older classic stride. I like the modern version better but I'd prefer a straight bop treatment even more.

Helleny and Walden did a duo on "They Say that Falling in Love is Wonderful." Nice.

Brecker with the rhythm section (Cedar on piano) played flugelhorn on "Some Day My Prince Will Come." Very good.

Lew came back and started blowing an intro to something. Randy answered him. As they did their call and response I was pretty sure I was hearing "How High the Moon." But when they finished the call and response intro and went into the head statement it turned out to be "Solar." Kelly and I and some others had a long exchange about the relationship between "Moon" and "Solar" on the Miles list a little over five years ago. So I'll have to cc him a copy of this. After their solos, Lew and Randy engaged in a great duet.

The closer, as I've already noted, was "Cottontail" with _it's_ great duet between Lew and Warfield.

And then--and it took a long sustained applause to bring the players back--there was that "Centerpiece" encore.

Now the question is how many months till the next jazz event in this town?



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