Arthur Taylor Tribute
Sunday, November 2nd, 2008
Ok, we've been doing this for a while now, so - it's time for a pop quiz! What do the following releases - "Giant Steps"(John Coltrane),"Capuchin Swing"(Jackie McLean),"One Flight Up"(Dexter Gordon) and "Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall" have in common? If you said "hard-bop classics?, you get half-credit. If you knew they all are driven by the drums of the late, great Art Taylor, well, you really have been paying attention. Most likely you were in attendance during November's ?Sunday Serenade?, a gathering of jazz devotees in Mount Vernon that served as an erstwhile tribute to "Mr. A. T." If not, read on...

At The BassLine, the energetic gathering of musicians? ease in playing with one another made their limited practice time as a unit seem totally insignificant. The group included Willie Williams and Joe Ford on reeds with the young, up and coming Bruce Harris again holding down the trumpet chair. Not to be outdone, the rhythm section boasted Marcus Persiani, Dezron Douglas and Alvester Garnett on piano, bass and drums, respectively. The skillful Williams came with a membership in Taylor's' last working band as a part of his prestigious pedigree, while his familiarity with the 'book' proved to be essential to a successful afternoon.

The first tune out of the box, Jackie McLean's up tempo "Bird Lives", showed that all hands meant business from the start. A tough composition to play, it has a sinuous melody line that can threaten to throw off all but the most sure-footed musicians, especially when taken "way up". It served to challenge both musician and listener alike. Bruce Harris began with a rapid-fire solo reminiscent of early Miles - thankfully, his developing style often references the masters without becoming a slavish imitation. Joe Ford on alto and Williams on tenor both blew on this 'giant-killer', with the latter finding a repeating motif that had Alvester Garnett's crashing his cymbals happily behind him. Persiani's dancing piano solo made you forget the electric tone of his keyboard-the hands of a talented musician can breathe life into the most obstinate instrument. Marcus Persiani is that kind of pianist. Alvester Garnett took a hip, polyrhythmic drum excursion before leading the sextet to a fine finish.

Next up was "Mr. A.T." a number that served as a theme song for "Taylor's Wailers". Harris again led off, this time on muted trumpet before switching to flugelhorn later in the tune. He was followed by Joe Ford on alto, who displayed a gorgeous tone during his lyrical outing. Garnett's brushes found a groove, playing a shuffle-beat beneath a bass solo (with Douglas showing the influence of Ray Brown in his playing) - they worked hand-in-glove throughout the tune (and the day). No one would believe that these two were not part of a regular working band!

"Harlem Mardi Gras", a carnival-like feature for the explosive drums of Alvester Garnett, had excellent contributions from all hands. A standout was the work of Willie Williams, who bowed in the direction of Sonny Rollins during his improvisation, bold and full-bodied, full of life and, well, soul. When Bruce Harris followed with some vintage Newk quotes of his own - "Hold'em,Joe" or was it "Sonnymoon For Two"? - You knew the ice was broken. Garnett took the piece out, singing on his set, military cadences, strutting, splashing and splaying on the cymbals, calling on all members to come toattention - and, as they say, 'Don't forget the funk'. Where can I sign up?

Other highlights included Willie Williams? unaccompanied intro to "Soul Eyes" (the lovely Mal Waldron ballad), killer bass work from Douglas on "Dear Old Stockholm" - this time showing he's absorbed lessons from Paul Chambers as well as Ray Brown - and the work of all on an exciting race-horse version of Jimmy Heath's "CTA" (Chicago Transit Authority).

At the conclusion of the November 23rd performance, Sharif Abdus-Salaam, who presents the music in its full spectrum on his program for WKCR-FM, said on behalf of the appreciative audience and Very Truly Yours that he'd like "to thank the musicians for sharing with us what you've been blessed with..."

I don't think I could have said it any better myself.
- Charlie Davis
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