Great Saturday night bands usually play long into Sunday morning, which was the case this weekend at the Garage as British legends the Pretty Things delivered an impressive recounting of their career. The new venue, in the space once occupied by the Roxy, proved an appropriate setting, since the band was introduced as the "grandfathers of garage" and proudly boasted that they owned "61 convictions between them."
The sextet were propelled by the stabbing guitar of Dick Taylor and howls of vocalist Phil May (the duo who founded the band in 1963), who were augmented by keyboardist John Povey and the majority of circa-1966 lineup.
The 90-minute set was smartly paced, including charging renditions of "Judgement Day" and the Things' biggest single, "Don't Bring Me Down." Better yet was a suite of songs from the group's lastingly influential '68 recording "S.F. Sorrow," credited as being the first rock "opera."
The group's energy flagged during an overlong trip through "L.S.D.," though not enough to dampen a fine set that managed to draw on the power of nostalgia while avoiding its pitfalls.
David 'Fathead' Newman
"Pure and simple" is the best way to describe tenor saxophonist David "Fathead" Newman's set Saturday night at One Step Down. Without the distractions of promoting a new album or proving himself, his three-night engagement confirmed his stature as a highly persuasive and conversational saxophonist whose blues-inflected melodies extend the legacy of the Texas tenors.
Complemented by bassist Steve Novosel, drummer Howard T. Curtis and pianist Allyn Johnson, Newman placed heavy emphasis on groove and hard swing. His barrelhouse tone and economical phrasing imbued chestnuts such as Freddie Hubbard's spry waltz "Up Jumped Spring" and Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer's shimmering ballad "Stardust" with the yearning soulfulness of a doo-wop crooner. But it was Newman's originals, including the evocative "Sunrise" and the churchy "Cousin Esau," featuring Newman on flute, that strongly betrayed his affinity for funk.
The evening's biggest revelation was Washington's own Johnson. His solos rivaled Newman's in execution and excitement. Novosel and Curtis also delivered some engaging solos, especially Curtis's extended essay in "Up Jumped Spring." But it was clear that Newman's salty tenor was the main spark plug of the evening.
Pianist Cyrus Chestnut announced at Blues Alley Friday night that he wanted everyone in the audience to leave the Georgetown club feeling better than when they walked in. Then he and his alert trio-mates--bassist Kengo Nakamura and bassist Neal Smith--went to work, concocting a series of mood-altering performances inspired by stride, swing and post-bop piano traditions, the spiritual "Jesus Loves Me," and the music of J.S. Bach and Duke Ellington.
Well known for his exuberant sound, Chestnut was in typically engaging form throughout much of the performance, whether infusing his own "Baroque Impressions" with a playful, almost Fats Waller-like spirit or hammering out block chords on a driving, Latin-tinged arrangement of "Caravan." On "You and the Night and the Music," Chestnut moved from percussive chords to rubato musings to cascading runs until the song took on rhapsodic dimensions.
Yet harmonic subtleties and thematic surprises were evident as well. One of the ways Chestnut refreshed "In a Sentimental Mood" was by elegantly altering the familiar procession of quarter notes that introduces the theme, adding a little harmonic or rhythmic twist to every passing chorus. Similarly, "Jesus Loves Me," refitted with some stride piano passages, also demonstrated Chestnut's imagination and resourcefulness, so much so that someone in the audience felt impelled to cap the performance by shouting out, "Amen."