Out of the Blue is one of the most encouraging recent developments in jazz: a young, interracial, well-rehearsed, utterly democratic hard-bop sextet with three exceptional writers and six hot soloists. Last night at the Fort Dupont Summer Theatre, Out of the Blue displayed an impressive consistency from instrument to instrument and an ensemble spirit that made possible the combo's rich harmonies and unflagging swing.
It's rare enough to find a bop combo with ambitious, worked-out arrangements, but it's even rarer to hear a band execute them as stylishly as Out of the Blue did with the three-part counterpoint horn harmonies of Michael Mossman's "Isolation" or the rising-and-falling dynamics of Ralph Bowen's "Elevation." If anyone stood out in this leaderless band, it was Ralph Peterson, who played his whole drum kit with the muscular authority of an Art Blakey and the melodic movement of a Jack DeJohnette. Steve Wilson proved a valuable addition with his blistering and purposeful alto sax runs. While so many jazz bands are split between a leader and his support, Out of the Blue demonstrated the virtues of mutual support.
Out of the Blue was followed by Les McCann, the former jazz pianist who has turned in recent years to a brand of easy-listening soul. McCann tinkled the occasional brief solo on electric piano and Bobby Brown did the same on soprano sax, but most of the set was given over to unimaginative pop songs sung unconvincingly by McCann over an unpersuasive beat.