By Tony Gieske
Aging piano prodigy Austin Peralta chose “Cantaloupe Island,” from the pen of the immortal Herbie Hancock, as something funky on which to whet his 19 year old touch, something apt to please for the opening number of a set at Vibrato Wednesday night.
It was a touch that proved light, precise and very nice. When the piano strings set humming by that touch began to get down and get funky, as the saying has it, toes began to tense, although there were not very many such appendages at the club on a Thursday night.
Peralta, who studied under Alan Pasqua before he started winning awards, knew how to whip out a phrase, spin it around, and plant it gracefully in your ear. You couldn’t ask for a more agreeable output, short of Hank Jones or somebody.
A tenor saxophonist is vital to a hip-shaking tune like “Cantaloupe Island” (or its Hancock-produced predecessor “Watermelon Man,” with similar erotic allusions), and sturdy Placentia player Jeff Ellwood brought the proper chops to this task. His stuff was rich and throaty, right on time and up to date.
But the playing of the rest ultimately left me uncertain as to whether Paralta’s strings achieved genuine funk. Those of bassist Lyman Medeiros earned the monicker well enough, but the discreet, sharp edged drumsticks of Dan Schnell did not.
The players then approached “Nardis,” the Miles Davis composition, with similar delicacy and close-hauled power. But now they were better tuned in, and light began to fall. Now they all started to enjoy life a little more, and they took plenty of space to tell the stories they had in mind. Each man’s solo progress prompted little gestures of gratitude from his accompanists.
Ellwood grew more forceful and Don Byas-like, and Peralta found appetizing new foliage in the territory of Ahmad Jamal.
So delight took the helm and the set grew into a beautiful summer evening on one of the more agreeable local peaks.
Photos by Tony Gieske. Read and see more of Tony’s jazz essays and photos at his personal web site tonyspage.com.