The One Step Down has been a unique showcase these past four or five years for international jazz talent that would otherwise seldom or ever turn up here. A case in point is the fare this weekend, alto saxophonist and flutist Frank Strozier and pianist Ronnie Mathews. The Memphis-born Strozier, a veteran of the groups of Miles Davis, Roy Haynes and others in the 1960s and '70s, moved from rest to drag-strip finish in an opening number that had him utilizing now a dry, thin tone, now a full-bodied hoarse timbre. Little leaps and dizzying swirls filled the spaces in his kaleidoscopic melody line.
Mathews, who has been with Art Blakey and Max Roach, proved a player of deep feeling for the blues and a subtle humorist whose musical jokes emerged with mid-passage quotes from unlikely sources. His counterpoint beneath the saxist's solos was always a statement that could stand on its own. The exchanges between the pianist and high-energy drummer Hugh Walker were prize examples, on both their parts, of journeyman craft and instantaneous composition. Mathews' solo feature, "A Child Is Born," was as lightly lyrical as his group playing was feverishly hot.
With one of D.C.'s finest bassists, Tommy Cecil, on hand the quartet was a joy to hear. They play again this evening.