When a jazz musician comes to town and works briefly with local players, as veteran guitarist Mundell Lowe did at One Step Down over the weekend, you can generally count on two things: an abundance of standards and a series of similarly formatted arrangements.
On that score, there were few surprises when Lowe joined bassist Tommy Cecil and drummer Mike Shepard late Saturday night. The tunes included "Body and Soul," "Squeeze Me" and the bop anthem "Steeplechase," and except for Lowe's exquisite solo rendition of Django Reinhardt's "Nuage," the arrangements were pro forma. However, within that context, the trio consistently developed a conversational ease and spontaneity that put a fresh spin on everything it performed. Playing a hollow body guitar, Lowe invariably set the tone, warming up to "Body and Soul" with gentle, ruminative phrases, imitating leaping sax lines on "Steeplechase" and often mixing lyrical single-note runs with resonant chordal solos built around ever-shifting harmonies.
Cecil, who seemed delighted by Lowe's melodic and harmonic facility and often anticipated his moves, neatly sustained the mood of each piece with both thoughtful and nimble improvisations. Likewise, Shepard provided discreet support throughout, and the crisp, martial cadences he hammered out on his snare during several four-bar exchanges with Lowe added some rhythmic sparks as well.