Two Tenor Serenade
Sunday, August 17th, 2008
A Sunday matinee concert on Aug. 17th -featuring the dual tenor saxophones of Patience Higgins and Ray Blue- was a fine example of how a grassroots promotional effort can successfully bring talented musicians before an appreciative jazz audience eager to support them. Produced by Very Truly Yours, the Westchester concert was the collective effort of longtime jazz fans Nat White and Arnie Perez. Entitled "Two Tenor Serenade", the performance was dedicated to the music and memory of saxophonist Johnny Griffin, who passed away at his home in France on July 25th. The convenient time of the date -3-6pm- was an added plus for those jazzers who worry about a late night of music causing them to miss their own gig the next morning! The location -The BassLine Club in Mt.Vernon- used an exceptional sound system and benefited from room acoustics that served the music well.

The rock-solid rhythm section featured brothers Zaccai and Luques Curtis on piano and bass, respectively, with Alvester Garnett on drums. Though none are a 'name' amongst the larger jazz public, they must be doing something right--all showed an ability to drive the band, maintain a hard bop feel, and easily go wherever the flow of the music took them; evidence of lessons learned, wonderfully so.

Higgins (who has worked with both Stevie Wonder and Hamiet Bluiett) and Blue (Gary Bartz, Steve Turre) came out with guns blazing from the start on "The Way You Look Tonight", letting the audience know they meant business -the business of swing, that is! Higgins led off, staying close to the melody, demonstrating his command of the horn with a lyrical solo, with Garnett chattering away behind him at the drum kit. Ray Blue's tone was a contrast in style as he tended toward a gruffer, more 'out' approach- he's absorbed both Eddie 'Lockjaw' Davis and David Murray.

Throughout the afternoon, Blue showed his ability to build a solo --using an outstanding technique to 'tell a story'. "Tin Tin Deo" featured a killer piano intro by Zaccai Curtis, showing his ease with the afro-cuban idiom. His blues-soaked fills (with a touch of Horace Silver added) remained his own special brew. The drumming of Alvester Garnett on this tune -and especially his lengthy solo on "Freedom Jazz Dance" which closed the first set -was nothing short of spectacular. Head tilted back, eyes shut, with a wide grin and a sporadic grunt, Garnett lost himself -but not the groove- in the classic Eddie Harris line. His solo conjured up the spirit of Eddie Blackwell as he swung in and out of tempo, skillfully using dynamics to bring the house down. Both tenors shone on "Well, You Needn't" and "Blue Monk", bringing the term 'locking horns' to life as they traded riffs over the steady bass line set down by Luques Curtis. Other highlights on an afternoon filled with them: Patience Higgins' lovely tone-with a tasteful use of multiphonics -on "In A Sentimental Mood", Ray Blue on "Blue Monk"-using slurred notes, 'popping' and overblowing skillfully, his playing referenced Johnny Griffin without slavishly imitating him. Blue, currently based in Berlin, spends most of the year in Europe. Stateside audiences deserve a chance to hear him more often! The afternoon ended with everyone jamming at length--an extended, yelping tenor madness-style climax on "Smokestack", a number from Griffin's 1957 "Blowing Session" date. At it's end, the smiling but exhausted musicians were thanked by a grateful audience, one eagerly looking forward to a promised series of further Sunday Serenades.
- Charlie Davis
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