By Don Heckman
Trumpeter Lew Soloff is the very model of a veteran jazz artist — fluent, articulate and imaginative in almost any musical setting. His resume, far too long to list, reaches from Blood, Sweat & Tears to Gil Evans.
But what Soloff brought Thursday to the first of two appearances at Charlie O’s had another quality – a quality not always present in the performances of veteran jazz artists. And that quality was a desire to communicate, to apply his many skills to a selection of music that would accomplish the dual task of entertaining his listeners while allowing him the opportunity to explore his ever-active improvisational curiosity.
Working with the solid musical companionship of Jerry Vivino, tenor and soprano saxophones and flute, Larry Goldings, piano, Mike Merritt, bass and James Wormworth, drums, Soloff shared the music, as well as its making, with his receptive audience. Charlie O’s is one of the Southland’s coziest, most amiable places to hear music, and never more so than when Soloff was cracking jokes – describing J.S. Bach as a pretty good composer – restarting a tune when it didn’t move in the right direction, and dedicating numbers to a few of the many musicians in the audience.
The range of his playing was impressive. On “There Is No Greater Love,” he deconstructed the tune, alternating pointillistic fragments with held notes – sometimes very long held notes — gradually bringing it all back together. Bach’s “Air on the G String” was done — hesitantly at first, then more convincingly – with Merrit’s bass. And Soloff’s own “Istanbul” displayed its Middle Eastern qualities with Vivino on flute and Soloff on piccolo trumpet.
Part of the evening was also given over to tributes to other trumpet players. First: a jaunty New Orleans-style tune with Soloff’s atmospheric rendering of Louis Armstrong, and Vivino doing an equally engaging version of Sydney Bechet’s soprano saxophone style. Next, a pair of pieces closely associated with Miles Davis, with Soloff playing Harmon-muted trumpet on “Seven Steps to Heaven” and opening the horn for a lyrical “My Funny Valentine.”
Despite some rough spots here and there, there was no questioning the inventiveness of the playing, or the sheer musicality of the set. Veteran that he is, Soloff brought his life long love of music to every note, from the first to the…last.
Lew Soloff also performs Saturday night with the John Heard Trio at Charlie O’s.