DrummerMax Roach, one of the great architects and innovators of modern jazz, turned 66 last week. And to judge by his Double Quartet's performance Friday night at the International Association of Jazz Educators Convention at the Sheraton Washington Hotel, his power and curiosity remain undiminished.
The ensemble, an unorthodox but not unwieldy combination of jazz and string quartets, consistently capitalized on the tonal and rhythmic qualities inherent to each group without allowing one to undermine the other. As the ensemble worked its way through diverse original pieces, save for an exceptionally nimble version of "Tricotism," the arrangements combined chamber group sonorities with effortless swing, darting pizzicato passages with brash sax and trumpet solos, and riffing interludes in which the horns and strings merged to create a sumptuous big band effect.
The performance was also charged with improvisations that seemed inspired by the logic, energy and dynamics that Roach displayed on his first solo of the evening. It was music of vision, daring and tradition, and a concert to be savored. -- Mike Joyce
Education in Jazz
The annual conference of the International Association of Jazz Educators had two concerts going at once Saturday night, and conferees and D.C. jazz fans alike were tramping back and forth through the carpeted halls of the Sheraton Washington Hotel, trying to see as much music as possible. Though the concerts were hampered by the conference's disorganization and persistent sound problems, the staid hotel took on the atmosphere of a jazz festival, with a festival's usual surfeit of good and mediocre music.
The best came from Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, a group of eight horn players and two drummers. The ensemble's danceable rhythms and lively brass-parade-band arrangements bear a striking resemblance to those of the better publicized Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but Bowie's Brass Fantasy is a far more adventurous outfit, taking R&B and jazz standards to the far edges of experimental jazz without losing the groove. Bowie, resplendent in a satin version of his trademark white lab coat, was a gymnastic conductor and unpredictable trumpeter. His band featured percussionist Famadou Don Moye (Bowie's bandmate in the Art Ensemble of Chicago), trombonist Joe Bowie (the leader's brother), tuba player Bob Stewart and French horn player Vincent Chancey, and they all played with considerable flair.
Nearly as good were a pair of hard-bop quintets. Bobby Watson & Horizon, led by Art Blakey's former saxophonist, unveiled several tunes from their new album, "Post-Motown Bop," due out this week. Watson and former Basie trumpeter Melton Mustafa tore through the fast-paced tunes with virtuoso command of Watson's appealing changes and a contagious good humor that was hard to resist. Trumpeter Tom Harrell, who played for years with Horace Silver, led another quintet with young saxophonist George Roberts. Pushed by D.C. native Billy Hart on drums, this quintet also played hard and fast, but the elegant, Silver-like piano solos by Dado Moroni were the biggest surprise.
The Rick Margitza Band and Steps Ahead played dull, plodding fusion and post-bop exercises. A more pleasant experience was the set by Deborah Brown, a little known American singer now based in Holland. Backed by a very tasteful trio (pianist James Williams, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Ed Thigpen), Brown sang vintage jazz standards with a fluid ease that brought back their original romance. -- Geoffrey Himes