When most jazz bands visit Washington, they feature an accomplished leader backed by several young and still developing musicians. When reed player Sonny Fortune came to Blues Alley last night, he brought along three veteran musicians who are every bit as accomplished as he. The result was an unusually well balanced show with significant contributions from each member.
Fortune, bassist Buster Williams and pianist Kenny Barron have all recorded as bandleaders. Drummer Ben Riley tied their solos together with his subtle, supple momentum.
Williams slid his left hand along the strings to give many notes an emotional shading. These sustained sliding notes were mixed in with quick plucks to make the bass line far richer than normal. Barron shadowed Fortune's horn leads with instinctive harmonies rather than basic chording. Barron's solos would take off on light, rolling runs only to be broken up by odd accents.
Fortune led the way on "Epistrophy" with an eager alto sax solo. Ideas bubbled out -- each one overtaking its predecessor -- as if Fortune were trying to empty Thelonius Monk's theme of all possibilities. Fortune followed that with a tremblingly lyrical interpretation of "Body and Soul" on soprano sax.
The Sonny Fortune Quartet will be at Blues Alley through Sunday.