Monday night at Blues Alley can provide surprises, often pleasant ones as was last night's appearance of the local Joe Doswell Quartet, which for three years has been presenting a history of jazz for the D.C. Public School System. An eclectic combo they were, as comfortable with slow blues as with uptempo romps.
Alto saxophonist Herb Smith, a familiar soloist with numerous local groups, fashioned angular lines on bop numbers and converted his horn into a sultry human voice on ballads. Elsworth Gibson, at the piano, displayed his well-known talent for melodic reshaping on "Autumn Leaves." He played it straight for several choruses, embellished it for several more and then got down to business restructuring it according to Gibson, subtly weaving into the new texture bits and pieces of other songs.
On Charlie Parker's "Scrapple From the Apple," Smith's sax went on Bird flights and Gibson cloaked himself in Monkish dissonances. Bassist Dave Jernigan anchored the group and explored dark caverns in solo. Leader Doswell's good rhythmic sense expressed itself in dry snare rolls and a steady ride beat on cymbals.
Alma Crawford, a vocalist who can lift a melody and stretch its syllables, concluded the set with a variety of ballads and jazz standards.