A Place For Jazz kicked off the 2011 season with the Terell Stafford – Dick Oatts Quintet, among the best bands of its kind on the scene right now. A solid NYC group, they play original arrangements of classic standards like Cole Porter’s “I Love You,” and tasty originals like the gumbo-infused “6/20/09 Express.”
The concerts are hosted in the First Unitarian Society’s Whisperdome in Schenectady which proved to be an especially good place to listen to Dick Oatts’ original “JCO Farewell.” The piece is a tribute to his late father, and it sounds somewhat like the introduction to John Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement” from the classic album “A Love Supreme,” except that it never breaks into a true groove.
Bassist David Wong began the tune with an extended introduction that was wise and contemplative. Wong’s tone and feel were both effortless, and he wasn’t afraid to breathe and leave himself space in between ideas. His head hung over his bass as his lines flowed out into the audience, and as soon as he looked up, the whole group entered with an ostinato section where the drummer rolled around the kit with mallets, and the horns gingerly recited the melody. As the horn melody finished, Wong continued with a bass solo that sat on top of the heavenly clouds laid by the piano and the bursts of thunder from the toms.
The second set began with an Oatts composition called “King Henry,” which was a minor-sounding thing in three. Bowers was able to really let his inner McCoy out on this one, and at times, he and drummer Obed Calvaire were able to really channel that late ’60s sound of Tyner and Elvin Jones that they pulled off so well throughout the evening.
Perhaps the most exceptional member of this group was their young pianist, Kris Bowers who has studied at the Julliard School, as well as with greats like Frank Kimbrough and Kenny Barron. He was able to conjure so many different piano greats in his still-developing style. At different times his sound was flowing like Red Garland, angular like Thelonius Monk, border-line gospel like Robert Glasper or heavy-handed like McCoy Tyner.
Another remarkable thing about this group was the amount of group improvisation. So many modern jazz groups are focused almost entirely on individual solos, but these guys opened up the end of most of their tunes and let them brew until everyone had had enough.
Closing the night was Oatts’ tune “The 6/20/09 Express,” which started out as a feature for Calvaire, who popped out the New Orleans boogaloo before the horns entered with the melody. The whole tune really took off though as Calvaire and Bowers locked in for a piano solo that sounded like something from McCoy Tyner and Elvin Jones – pure fire.
“Bridging The Gap” is the quintet’s newest release on the Catskill-based Planet Arts label, which is also home to local artists such as Yuko Kishimoto, Steve Lambert and Michael Benedict, as well as the Grammy Award-winning Village Vanguard Orchestra.
Review by Jeff Nania
Photographs by Gerald Zaffuts