By Michael Katz
Every once in a while it’s good to remember why we go out to see live music. John Beasley, backed by Nicholas Payton on trumpet, Terri Lyne Carrington on drums and Victor Bailey on basss, provided a mix of virtuosity and exuberance Saturday night, bringing his combination of gentle swing and New Orleans style funk to Catalina’s for the opening show.
Beasley opened with a couple of tunes from his Letter to Herbie CD. Especially effective was “Bedtime Voyage,” in which he visited Hancock’s “Bedtime Story” and “Maiden Voyage,” tiptoeing around the chordal structures of both in a haunting intro, while Carrington provided elegant stick work behind him. Payton took up the familiar melody to “Maiden Voyage,” showing off the rich mid-tones of his trumpet, using the higher notes as exclamation points.
From there, Beasley turned the attention to his new CD, Positootly! He introduced “Shatita Boom Boom” with some vocal “boom chicas” before settling back into the piano chair. Payton then added a New Orleans groove, (with a small shot of “Tequila”), and Bailey chipped in with a bass solo that at one point mimicked a Big Easy back line tuba. Beasley, meanwhile, laid back before closing out with a bright, cathouse piano solo that had the near-capacity house on its feet.
Beasley switched to the Fender Rhodes for “Black Thunder,” a tribute to Elvin Jones. When Beasley moves to electric piano, the band takes on a funkier tone, with traces of a 70’s jazz-funk sound. Payton led with a growling trumpet solo, moving up the harmonic ladder for some hard-charging riffs, at one point echoing Freddie Hubbard’s “Straight Life” line. Payton is one of the leading lights in a New Orleans trumpet succession that includes Wynton Marsalis and Terence Blanchard, and it was a real treat to see him in this ensemble. But the highlight of “Black Thunder” — no surprise given the source material — was Carrington’s high energy drum solo, a more than worthy nod to Elvin Jones. Overall this quartet was an excellent vehicle for Carrington, whose percussion shone the entire set.
The quartet closed with a playfully dramatic rendition of Argentine composerAstor Piazzolla’s “Tanguedia III.” Payton introduced the tango, again with total command of his trumpet’s middle octaves. Beasley supported on the Fender Rhodes; he and Payton interspersed their solo work with dramatic pauses, keeping the audience hanging on each note.
Throughout the set, Beasley demonstrated a rapport with the audience that was especially welcome in the intimate surroundings. He doesn’t overwhelm the audience with pyrotechnics, but captivates with infectious rhythm on the Fender Rhodes and understated riffing on the acoustic piano. He’s assembled quite a talented band to keep together, but here’s hoping audiences will get more opportunities to see them perform.
Photos by Juan E. Morse
To read other reviews and commentary by Michael Katz click here.