By Don Heckman
I can never recall trick or treating having much connection with jazz. So when Vitello’s announced a “Halloween Costume Party and Jam” featuring saxophonist Bob Sheppard with a stellar band, it sounded like the potential for an unusual and entertaining evening.
As it was. Sheppard’s band included guitarist Larry Koonse, bassist Dave Robaire and drummer Charles Ruggiero. And the word was out that some sitting in would be taking place, as well. Add to that the audience costumes that arrived over the course of the evening, and the atmosphere of communal jazz sharing that made the performance feel like a long musical party among friends.
It’s worth noting, too, that the Halloween costuming, so to speak, wasn’t limited to the colorful members of the audience. Several times during the evening, Sheppard and Koonse added their own offbeat appearances, proudly wearing the wigs of ‘60s hippydom.
The opening set featured the front line of Sheppard and Koonse at their best. Always among the first-call choices on their instruments, both players are best heard in a wide open setting like this one, stretching out on some standards and a jazz classic or two, interacting spontaneously in a relaxed environment.
Whether playing tenor or soprano, Sheppard is always adventurous, applying his considerable technique to the expression of his equally imaginative soloing. And so, too, is Koonse, whose subtle accompaniment touches produce virtually instantaneous arrangements, countered by his own inventive solo efforts.
Backing Sheppard and Koonse, the rhythm team of Robaire and Ruggiero were flawless, matching a propulsive sense of swing with an equally supportive framework of rhythm and timbre.
As the evening progressed, other players joined the Halloween Jam. Among them, there were some especially compelling contributions from the ever-impressive pianists Billy Childs and John Beasley.
Call it a Halloween full of musical treats, without the distraction of a single trick. And credit April Williams, Vitello’s jazz impresario, with yet another imaginative musical evening. Be sure to check her November Vitello’s calendar for a month-long schedule of equally appealing jazz events.
Photos by Faith Frenz