By Don Heckman
Studio City, CA. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. An evening of well prepared Italian food, fine wine and even finer music at Vitello’s is a great way to experience world class jazz.
And this past weekend offered a superb opportunity to all that and more. On Friday night by the Bill Holman big band, on Saturday by the stellar musical combination of singer Lee Hartley, the iconic veteran keyboardist Les McCann and the Alphonse Mouzan band, and on Sunday by jazz vocalist Judy Wexler.
Start with the Bill Holman Band. As always for a Holman gig, the stage was overflowing with a collection of the Southland’s finest players. Not surprising, since the appeals of Holman’s superb charts are a virtually irresistible drawing point that always attracts the best musicians.
For this performance, there was an even more tempting aspect – one that undoubtedly appealed to both players and listeners. What was it? It was an opening set devoted to Holman’s memorable arrangements of Thelonious Monk tunes first heard on the Holman Grammy Award-winning album Brilliant Corners: The Music of Thelonious Monk.
The results were extraordinary, and fully apparent to anyone who’s heard the album. From the classic Monk ballad, “Round Midnight” to the title track and the swinging “Rhythm-A-Ning” to the driving blues of “Straight No Chaser” the music unfolded with one marvelous jazz episode after another.
As if that wasn’t enough, Holman finished the set with some equally sterling charts of originals and standards – like the Monk tunes, brought to life with vividly creative intensity. Bottom line, Holman once again displayed his mastery of the big band format that is the virtual symphonic ensemble of 20th and 21st century American music.
Regrettably, I couldn’t make it to the Lee Hartley Saturday night show. And the loss was mine. I’d heard Lee Hartley sing before on an earlier Vitello’s show with Les McCann, and every note was worth hearing. To check out my review of that performance click HERE. Unfortunately I haven’t heard Alphonse Mouzon’s band in a long time. I’ll have to make up for that on a future gig.
Sunday night’s performance was a creatively textured appearance by singer Judy Wexler, in which the diminutive but musically gifted jazz vocalist presented a selection of songs from her latest album “What I See.” Backed by the solid accompaniment of a seven piece band that included trumpeter Ron Stout, trombonist Scott Whitfield, guitarist Larry Koonse, pianist Jeff Colella, bassist Chris Colangelo and drummer Steve Hass. She emphasized the far-reaching aspects of her interpretive versatility in a program of songs written by or associated with the likes of King Pleasure, Benny Carter, Rickie Lee Jones, Richie Havens. And she made the most it all, balancing her well-developed skills as an actress with her equally impressive musical way with a song.
* * * * * * **
Photos by Faith Frenz.