By Don Heckman
A pair of memorable jazz celebrations filled Disney Hall Saturday night with an enthusiastic crowd of listeners. Both segments of the performance were dedicated to 60th anniversaries. The first was a rare musical re-imagining of the 1953 Massey Hall (Toronto) performance that featured the brilliantly iconic quintet of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.
That’s as classic a bebop ensemble as has ever been heard, anywhere. And the challenge facing anyone attempting to simulate the classic Massey Hall performance (which is available on recordings) was to recall the original without falling into mimickry.
To the credit of the Massey Hall-revisited band at Disney – trumpeter Jon Faddis, alto saxophonist Jesse Davis, pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington – they performed a dynamic set of numbers vividly bringing the bebop era to life.
Faddis’ long-time relationship with Gillespie was present in everything he played. There were passages in which Faddis, like Gillespie, explored the trumpet’s full range of pitch and expressionism, often dominating the stage with ear-tingling high notes and storm clouds of fast-fingered riffing.
Saxophonist Davis brought both an affection for Charlie Parker, as well as a similarity of sound and phrasing, to his full-toned improvisations. Standing side by side with Faddis, ripping through such bebop classics as “Groovin’ High,” “Salt Peanuts,” “All the Things You Are,” “Hot House,” “Night In Tunisia” and more, propulsively driven by the strong rhythm team, he partnered in an effective recalling of one of contemporary jazz’s most memorable musical excursions.
The second half of the bill celebrated the 60th anniversary of the start of the Newport Jazz Festival. This ensemble, with saxophonist/clarinetist Anat Cohen serving as musical director, offered an equally appealing array of players: Cohen, pianist Peter Martin, trumpeter Randy Brecker, singer Karrin Allyson, guitarist Mark Whitfield, bassist Ben Allison and drummer Clarence Penn.
Here, however, there was no special effort to offer contemporized versions of the bebop past. Instead, the ensemble, in its natural diversity, recalled the ever-appealing range of music that has always been an essential element in the colorful history of the Newport Festival.
The first numbers showcased the trumpet virtuosity of Brecker, ably supported by the band’s dynamic rhythm team.
But as the program continued, a different musical direction took over, guided imaginatively by the two women in the ensemble: Cohen and Allyson. Always as improvisationally expansive as an instrumentalist, Allyson was at her best in a performance of “’Round Midnight” that showcased the full range of her expressive powers.
The highlight of the set, however, as well as the entire evening, was a reading of “La Vie En Rose” featuring Allyson’s lush-toned voice in tandem with the emotionally rich clarinet of Cohen. Singing and playing with expansive creative intensity, often moving with the subtle gestures of dancers, both brought a rarely heard feminine jazz expressiveness to the French classic — and the balance of the program.
In sum, there was a vital appropriateness in the qualities that were constantly present in the efforts of Cohen and Allyson, beautifully enlivening the transformative gender qualities that have become part of the jazz lexicon over the past 60 years.