Live Jazz: Eddie Daniels Upstairs at Vitello’s

By Don Heckman

Eddie Daniels

Eddie Daniels’ reputation as a gifted jazz clarinetist and saxophonist is secure. Always respected for his remarkable, genre-crossing clarinet abilities, his multi-woodwind work (especially tenor saxophone and clarinet) established him, as far back as the ‘60s, as a player at ease as a sideman and a soloist, comfortably expressive in jazz, classical music and beyond.

Some, but not all, of those attributes were on display Friday night Upstairs at Vitello’s.  Making one of  his infrequent trips to the Southland from his Santa Fe home, Daniels was performing with the backing of the sterling L.A. trio of pianist Tom Ranier, bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Steve Schaeffer.  Despite minimal rehearsal time, the cohesion between the players was an impressive display of prime, improvisational music making.

Starting with a briskly rhythmic arrangement of “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” Daniels played with the high flying pyrotechnics that have stamped him as one of the very few world class practitioners of the jazz clarinet.  Other tunes followed in a similar pattern, with Daniels’ fast fingers setting the pace.

When he switched to tenor saxophone for a few numbers, only the instrument changed; his style, with its emphasis on virtuosic technique, remained constant.

Tom Ranier, Eddie Daniels, Mike Valerio, Steve Schaeffer

Ranier’s soloing often provided an attractive counterpoint, especially in those passages in which he opened his lines to allow space for his improvising to breathe.  So, too, for Valerio and Schaeffer, working as a solid team.  Like Ranier, they provided textures that were supportive, airy and rhythmically alive.

But there was no denying Daniels’ extraordinary mastery of the clarinet.  Classically trained, frequently performing classical pieces, his improvisational range seems limited.  One could wish, however, for him to not make every solo into a note-filled excursion across the entire range of the instruments.  Instead, it would have been intriguing to hear him offer more of the sort of warm sensitivity provided by the woody timbres of the clarinet’s chalumeau register.

Given the rarity of his L.A. performances, however, it was a distinct pleasure to hear Daniels in action, especially with such superb backing.  Hopefully, there will also be an opportunity in the near future to hear him classically, as well.  A presentation of the Copland Clarinet Concerto with, say, the L.A. Philharmonic or the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra would be a great start.

Photos by Bob Barry


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