Completing the circle from its church-connected origins, jazz yesterday played the annual youth meeting at the Washington Hilton of Eckankar, a religious organization that uses music as one medium of its message.
Vibraphonist-vocalist Darji (Darwin Gross), a master of the worldwide spiritual organization and the concert's headliner, was kept away by illness. The gap was filled with two spirited sets by his still-intact support quartet, led by former Dizzy Gillespie guitarist Rodney Jones. The 26-year-old Jones is an encouraging sign that the guitar has survived the histrionics and mauling of the rock decades. Jones' facile technique brought forth whole sounds that were as soft as the dew, as in "Misty," or hot, horn-like licks, as in "Cherokee." He also can pull the blues out of his hollow-bodied instrument.
Bassist Victor Gaskin, lately with pianist Billy Taylor, knows his way around his big upright as a watchmaker knows a Swiss timepiece. He made it sing like a muted horn, both plucked and bowed. Fred Lipsius' piano often came up under Jones' solos and lock-stepped craftily into the guitarists' lines. Solid straight-ahead drums were handled well by Ken Windholz. This is a combo that could easily go out on its own.
Rhode Island-based vocalist Rachel Von Morray, an eleventh-hour fill-in, never really got into sync with the others on the several songs she performed per set.