Though last night's show at Blues Alley was billed as the Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson Allstars, it was actually a mini-festival that included the Buck Hill Quartet and the Big "Nick" Nicholas Quartet. All three saxophonists have toured and recorded as bandleaders. Each has an exciting, unmistakably personal sound on the sax. Each gets a chance to prove it by himself with a superb Washington rhythm trio, through Sunday.
Hill, whose reputation has outgrown his hometown of Washington, brought an unusual sincerity to his romantic ballad with the trio. In the sextet blow-outs, he held his own with his quick-witted note leaps. Nicholas weighed in with a tenor sax tone as imposing as his huge body and as warm as his massive smile.
The 63-year-old Vinson comes from a long line of Texas saxophonists (such as Buddy Tate, Arnie Cobb and Ornette Coleman) whose grainy sound owes as much to rhythm & blues as to jazz. Vinson complemented his piercingly irreverent alto sax with an old-fashioned blues voice. He sang his 1945 hit, "Kidney Stew," and also sang about his gleaming bald dome: "If it wasn't for you women, I'd have my curly locks today. But I've been hugged, kissed and petted till all my hair was rubbed away!"