Top Shelf, which opened a two-nighter at the One Step Down Friday, displayed a variety of musical backgrounds. It proved again the commonality, variety and vitality of the jazz tradition.
Saxophonist John Stubblefield's timbre on ballads recalled Lester Young and, on free pieces, the urgency of Pharoah Sanders. New Orleans street beat, forays into the avant-garde and the intoxication of Latin percussion came together in the sticks of drummer Steve McCall. Bassist and leader Reggie Workman came up with Art Blakey's "Messengers," and later served with John Coltrane. Jimmy Owens, now an educator himself, received early training with Lionel Hampton and in the Charles Mingus Workshop. As for the eclectic pianist mickey Tucker, bop lines, the meanest of blues and the hand-over-hand tumult of Cecil Taylor co-mingled beneath his fingers.
Kenny Dorham's "Windmill" started haltingly then got busy and boiling. Owens' trumpet cut through like a bolt of lightning, Stubblefield's tenor took it out on a hurricane. Tucker churned up quotes, styles and hints of other players all with his own stamp.
They were buoyed up on a massive surf of rolls from McCall. Workman was at the center of it all, his empathy with the others total.