The Harold Howland Ensemble performed an assortment of its original compositions last night at Blues Alley, dividing its program among subdued chamber jazz pieces, blues and a red hot set-closer.
Drummer Howland's sensitive accompaniment, combustible solos and imaginative use of percussion devices added many dimensions to the quartet's character. Bassist John Previti's keen melodic sense along with his ability to superimpose multiple sounds made his solos high points. Saxophonist Bruce Swaim's tenor swaggered nicely on the faster tunes, and his soprano lent an oriental flavor to several slower-paced selections. The four-mallet pianistic approach of vibraphonist Jon Metzger adapted itself to both the uptempo numbers and the more contemplative tunes.
At first, it seemed that the Church's Sunday night show at the 9:30 club was to be a virtual reprise of its last performance there almost two years ago, with material from the Australian quartet's latest album, "Heyday," replacing songs from the previous one, "Remote Luxury."
However, late in its set, the band loosened up. Musically, this abandon was not always for the best; for example, the group hounded "Constant in Opal" until the melody lost its shape. But the incendiary interplay of guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper frequently compensated for the loss of tunefulness and control; both displayed vocal shortcomings, but they shifted from delicate Byrdsian textures to raging acid rock leads with ease.
Pauline Martin, cellist Steven Honigberg and violinist Mary Findley joined forces last night in the finale of the Strathmore Arts Center's "Summer Serenades" series for a performance that highlighted the emotional extremes of chamber music.
The three offered a gripping performance of Dmitri Shostakovich's piano trio No. 2, Op. 67. Written during World War II, this emotional piece employs many challenging techniques to convey the tragedy of the time. With a few exceptions, Findley and Honigberg played the long sections of pizzicato and harmonics compellingly.
The rich melodies of Robert Schubert's Op. 99 piano trio evoked images of an earlier era. The ensemble work was at its finest during the playful Scherzo-Allegro, and Honigberg excelled in the finale.
It was Oscar Peterson's night at Wolf Trap. Recognized by many as the finest jazz pianist of all time (although some will name Art Tatum), Peterson did not disappoint his enthusiastic audience last night at the Filene Center. His meticulous phrasing and enormous dynamic range -- the piano would thunder and then whisper in an instant -- were all the more impressive because they conveyed a clear emotional statement.
He followed two fine acts. Stanley Jordan, who has revolutionized guitar technique with his hammer style of playing, opened the evening. He is a formidable talent, with a technique that allows the guitar to speak multiple lines with clarity. Facile riffs in free improvisation led to a fully developed "Autumn Leaves," which sounded convincingly like piano chords in duet with a walking bass.
After intermission, guitarist Joe Pass seemed in an unenviable position, squeezed between youthful invention and established greatness. His traditional jazz style at first seemed too much like cocktail music. But his warm, evocative tunes and sure rhythms were captivating.
Finally, Oscar Peterson himself. The piano playing was as expected -- flawless execution of the most complex rhythms and figurations and a wide expressive range. His secret is that he is not just a technical marvel, but that he speaks deeply to the emotions. In that sense, the high point of the program was "A Love Ballad," a soft, warm tune worthy of Chopin that gently develops into a moving chorale. No one could fail to be touched by the sight of that beautiful man playing that sweet, sad song. Joe Pass returned to join Peterson in "Perdido," and then in a friendly guitar and piano "duel" based on "Sweet Georgia Brown." They both won.
-- Ed Roberts