Five young musicians put together a first set at Blues Alley last night that blended the traditional with the contemporary and juxtaposed structure with free form. The members of the Chico Freeman Quintet are highly skilled players and they performed with passion. Although there was sometimes a sense that new material was being tried out and some of the solos needed editing, originality abounded and the swing frequently swept one along.
The up-tempo standard the group opened with, "Softly as a Morning Sunrise," was built around a series of tour de force solos that began with what seemed like a 20-fingered grand tour of the keyboard by pianist Marc Thompson and concluded with a truly musical drum break by Freddie Waits. Tenor saxophonist Freeman and trumpeter Wallace Roney filled the middle section.
Bassist Clarence Seay introduced the next number, which alternated between random and ghostly slow drag and triple time straight ahead. Roney ripped off runs of 16th notes in exchange with the leader's flurries and snorts as the piece vacated hothouse bop for madhouse free.
An a cappella introduction to another original had Freeman displaying his Webster-sized saxophonic vocabulary. Then, with the rhythm section, Freeman blew a ballad right out of the 1940s.