By Tony Gieske
Bob Mintzer and Bob Sheppard did not bill their act as a battle of the tenors, although that is a venerable Los Angeles jazz tradition since the days when Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray walked Central Avenue. Upstairs at Vitello’s Wednesday, the two living tenor saxophonists stayed in the present and did not duel or even trade fours.
Which was wise restraint, since their methodology drew on pretty much the same harmonic roots: standards and blues. We did not have a Coleman Hawkins vs. Lester Young. On the contrary, it wasn’t easy to tell which Bob was which.
If Mintzer started to blow boldly, Sheppard did too, and so forth. If you had your eyes shut, the only way you could tell who was playing was that Sheppard had a slightly heavier, slightly wider sound and was a little wilder, which wasn’t very wild.
Or maybe it was the other way around.
On “Back Home in Indiana,” they created heart tugging echoes of Lee Konitz and Lennie Tristano, or maybe it was the pianist and educator Alan Pasqua who was sneaking that stuff in. Of course, Miles Davis’ head on those lovable changes — “Donna Lee” — was alluded to from time to time.
Despite his residence on the faculty at the University of Southern California, Pasqua got downer and dirtier, wilder and crazier, and more fun than anybody else except maybe the welcome bassist Tony Dumas and the razor-sharp drummer Joe LaBarbera.
I’m not sure you would expect that from a guy who co-wrote the dense little theme for the CBS Evening News. Tonight, Pasqua stretched out and improvised musical stories with a beginning, a middle and an end, tickling the ear and amusing the soul for two or three choruses at a time.
Come to think of it, that was what Mintzer and Sheppard were doing next to him all night long.
Photos by Tony Gieske. Read and see more of Tony Gieske’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site tonyspage.com.