Jazz on Jay No. 11- Claire Daly Quartet

“Funk in the Deep Freeze” was a wishful thinking song title Thursday as baritone saxophonist Clalre Daly led three local heroes at Jazz on Jay, an over-heated endurance contest the band only narrowly won.

Playing baritone sax with any fluency at all takes as much lung power as it does arm strength to tote one. Filling that imposing heavy horn is hard work even in good weather. In the 90-degree heat and swampy humidity on Jay Street Thursday, the band had to take a break 40 minutes in “to dry off,” said the black-clad Daly, and they shortened their scheduled 90 minute set a bit. 

A 1980 Berklee grad, Daly fashions her playing and makes her song choices in a respectful way that reflects a love for 1950s hard-bop, pop, R&B and show tunes. She recorded a full album of Motown covers in 2016 and has guest-played with jazz traditionalists including George Garzone and Giacomo Gates but also with the eclectic bluesman Taj Mahal. 

Her opener “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and a name-that-tune challenge later,“Secret Love,” reached back to 1950s show-tunes. The locally-based band assembled for this show – pianist Wayne Hawkins, bassist Pete Toigo, drummer Michael Benedict – know that stuff inside out and started playing here in the big shadow of our own baritone sax giant Nick Brignola.

They were ready for this, in other words; so things fit and flowed.

Mostly, they launched from a straight-on statement of the melody, then Daly’s baritone or Hawkins’s piano soloed first in a round-robin journey before Daly brought things back home. In Monk’s “Let’s Cool One” – Daley dubbed this “a good idea” – a jagged odd-time intro flowed into a groove everybody rode. While “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” found Daly reaching into her upper register, she went the other way into authoritative low-down runs “Let’s Cool One.” After Hawkins soloed and Benedict and Toigo swapped fours, Daly re-stated the main melody. 

In Garzone’s raffish “Chooch” – Daly said she was tending bar in Boston’s Michael’s Pub the night Garzone introduced it there – respect didn’t immediately translate into expression. Early on, she seemed uncertain as to what she wanted to do with it. In short order, she found her direction and soon everybody was cooking on the same recipe.

Hawkins was especially sharp in “Secret Love,” crisp in a Latin arrangement with Benedict’s cymbals moving things along toward Daly’s high-register arpeggios at the recap.

Daly cited the multi-reeds-at-once fireworks of Rahsaan Roland Kirk as a leading light. She introduced Kirk’s wandering “Theme for the Eulipions” with exposed solo-sax runs before the band came into this space-bossa with her and helped it sing.

“Funk in the Deep Freeze” strolled easy into happy bebop, running through stop-and-go cadences before a spiky return to where they started.

Only one full-slow ballad eased things: the venerable “I Want to Talk About You” – built, Daly said, by Billy Eckstine on the “Misty” chords. Wherever it came from, it felt sweet, though maybe too short.

Hawkins varied the tone, attack and decay of his notes throughout, shaping the feel. While Benedict’s band features bassist Mike Lawrence, he and Toigo were rock-solid Thursday in straight-ahead tunes, reconstructed show tunes and the hard-bop energy everybody on the bandstand likes – and easily sold to the subdued, overheated crowd.

The Jazz on Jay series of free noontime shows continues Thursday, Sept. 2 with guitarist Joe Finn and his Quartet. 

Mister Charlie

The Immaculate Percussion

Until recently, I greeted news of every death with the hope that it wasn’t COVID. This was a strange superstition about how our dreaded plague somehow drowned out the possibility of anything else deadly happening around here.

Not so, obviously.

Am I more pissed off that John Prine died of COVID than that Charlie Watts died, at all? 

I truly don’t know. Both hurt.

Charlie’s passing hit hard. 

For context, the first show-biz death I truly mourned was Nat King Cole, Feb. 15, 1965; and I never got to see him sing except on black and white TV.

I’ve only seen three Rolling Stones shows; and the last one, at Albany’s Times Union Center in Sept. 2005, was by far the best. 

That was right after Charlie beat throat cancer, and relief at this reprieve uplifted the whole band. That feel, that unified force they projected, proved how central he was to their sound, their energy, their power.

In all three of those shows, though, Keith visibly relied on Charlie not just for the groove but for everything. He often drifted back on the stage to stand facing Charlie and away from the audience. He’d sync his rhythm guitar slams with Charlie’s snare or kick-drum, deep in the pocket. 

Imagine digging the Grand Canyon with two hands and two feet: That’s what Charlie did, every night.

Charlie, Ringo, Earl Palmer from New Orleans then the Wrecking Crew in LA and Clyde Stubblefield in James Brown’s band; those guys are IT in rock and roll drumming.

Music Haven Reopens in Shortened Season of Free Concerts

Bluesman Albert Cummings Rocks the (happy) House, Wyld Blu Opens

Each concert venue reopening in this second plague year brings its own particular joy – a general feeling of relief and reunion, but spiced with its own particular atmosphere and energy.

At Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park Sunday night, it was diversity, dancing and an almost dizzying uplift of shared exultation. We were together again, in a well-loved place. I met folks I hadn’t seen since the last show there, two summers ago.

Before Wyld Blu started the music, impresario Mona Golub started the feeling. She issued a happy welcome, thanked the series sponsors, encouraged raffle-ticket buying and announced this was her birthday party. Also mine, but I digress. Her father Neil interrupted in the best possible way, presenting her a bouquet and birthday wishes, there at the mic – but the show was a gift to all of us.

Shrugging off some opening-night nerves, Wyld Blu set the table with a feast of mostly mid-tempo shuffles. They played blues as good time tunes, revved to blow away bad times with rocking riffs. 

The quartet twice represented our region at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and was Blues Artist of the Year at the 2019 Eddy Awards (when I won as Music Journalist of the Year, but I digress). So they hit the stage with growing confidence in their original tunes, sturdy songs welded together of familiar elements in western boogie, big-city R&B and crunchy power glide grooves.

Alana Wyld sang center stage in tall boots, wyld (excuse me) hair and fuzzy scarf behind a guitar she kept busy with spiky solos and supportive chording under Rick Surrano’s harp honks and wails. Longtime drummer Phil Nestor locked on the one with (new) bassist Mike Persico. “Set Me Free” peaked their 45-minute opener, simmering from an easy amble, slower than most of their tunes and with a good Wyld guitar solo. But then an upshift into their more customary shuffle tempo brought an even better one.

By his second song, sweat gleamed in the V of headliner Cummings’s western shirt, and he sang without words as if the feel out-ran his lyrics. While Wyld Blu played things fairly short to introduce as many original songs as possible, Cummings put the stretch on. 

Looking like a beefier Woody Harrelson under a black stingy-brim, he took his tunes to the gym and worked them hard. Like Wyld Blu, he built his songs of time-tested materials. And he declared his intentions right up front, in the blistering blast of “I’ve Got Feelings Too.” Like the essential paradox that singing the blues makes you feel less blue, this statement of vulnerability was as much muscle as misery. And his solo speared into outer space, past the half moon peaking through the clouds.

Cummings also made moves to engage the (very big) crowd. He rewarded an impromptu singalong in his opening number with a second solo that soared higher than the first, gas on the fire.

“Barrel-House Blues” rolled and rolled, stretching so fast and far it seemed to cause doubt for a minute. “You guys OK with this?” he asked. Again, he took spark from his fans’ applause, climbing behind the wheel of “500 Miles” to drive and drive, singing of a hoped-for reunion. 

Drummer Warren Grant really revved here, coiling on his stool like a cobra, grinning in incandescent glee that powered shoulder-high snare shots. Bassist Scott Sutherland played less flashy all night, maybe one note for every five, or fifty, Cummings blasted into the night; but they were the right notes. Son Zak recognized before I did when Cummings solo drifted out of his lane like an over-excited trucker into Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like I Do.” Cummings explained he’d been recording at Frampton’s Nashville studio. 

For all the happy anticipation of “500 Miles” and the jokey moment of “Feel,” Cummings sang most often of betrayal, of love shaken by disillusionment.

Things got fierce in “Cry Me a River” and “Up Your Sleeve.” In these (and other) tunes, Cummings steered closest to the aggressive open-road Texas styles of Freddie King (the “Texas Cannonball”), Stevie Ray Vaughan (whose debut album was “Texas Flood”) and ZZ Top (self-styled “Lil’ Ol’ Band from Texas”). Cummings clearly likes those hot-pavement highways and this helped carry everybody with him.

Cummings hailed Glenville-based blues journalism giant Don Wilcock (first editor I ever wrote for, but I digress), crediting him for early career support and encouragement. Check Don’s review of the show on http://www.nippertown.com.

As usual, mega-fan Steve Nover was among the first to filter up front through the crowd to dance among the photographers clustered below the stage. Soon others joined in, alone, in pairs and clusters. By the time Cummings closed with the obvious but compelling declaration “Blues Make Me Feel So Good,” folks filled the space between stage and seats. 

He sent us home hoping he’d given us “something to take home that you can keep.” This seemed to work just fine as happy people picked up chairs and remnants of picnics and headed home through the cool dark.

Liraz Charhi, who performs as Liraz, continues the Music Haven concert series on Sunday, Aug. 22. The Iranian (by way of Israel) singer-actress combines the musics of both homelands on two albums; “Zan” (Persian for “women”) is the latest. On these projects she collaborated with Iranian musicians clandestinely, as they are barred from working with Israelis. The Palestinian instrumentalist Firas Zreik, now based in Brooklyn, opens. He plays the many-stringed harp- or dulcimer-like kanun.

Jazz on Jay No. 9 – The Dadtet Thursday, August 12

They’re all dads: trombonist/leader Ben O’Shea, pianist David Gleason, saxophonists Brian Patneaude (tenor) and Dave Fisk (tenor and alto), bassist Mike Lawrence; and drummer Andy Hearn.

Their Dadtet band name signifies parenthood more than any oblique reference to Louis “Pops” Armstrong. It serves instead as a convenient, collective marquee label for these established area jazz cats. A prior name, the Ben O’Shea Quintet, confused a woman who came to a gig expecting an Irish St. Patrick’s Day vibe.

However, she stayed for most of that gig, just as everybody stayed for the Dadtet’s Jazz on Jay show Thursday under a pounding sun. And they did play “Summertime,” a song Satchmo famously recorded with Ella Fitzgerald.

Four of the dads – O’Shea, Gleason, Patneaude and Fisk – played regularly with Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble before it went on hiatus during the plague. In Pray’s 17-piece crew, all adopted workmanlike personas. Thursday, however, O’Shea flexed his funny bone at times in a relaxed and self-deprecating way. 

This gave the noontime gig a cool, easy feel; not because it was too hot to play fast or hard but because the guys shared the confident flair of walking through the tunes together, swinging everything.

Meanwhile, fans arriving for the show fled the sun’s hot glare for the shady side of Jay Street.

“Summertime,” indeed.

The Dadtet’s slow, dramatic early-set take on this classic featured strong solos by Fisk, whose statement of the familiar melody launched from a higher register than usual; Gleason, with an energetic rhythmic authority, and Patneaude running the changes with his typical grace and aplomb. O’Shea modestly soloed last, and with clarity and drive, before Fisk took the tune back to the head.

“Summertime” followed “Filthy McNasty,” one of the great song titles and first song by or about Horace Silver in the Dadtet’s mostly upbeat, hard-bop-inspired set. O’Shea took the lead here in a mid-tempo swing mood that built like a storm surge to crest then signal short swapping riffs that set each player in turn against Hearn’s drums. Unshielded by the tent over the rest of the Dadtet, Hearn was rescued from the sun by Jazz on Jay chief Betsy Sandberg or one of her volunteers, holding a beach umbrella over the otherwise melting percussionist.

“Ladybird” kept things breezy; another swing-time stroll where Patneaude especially shone but Lawrence also made the most of his first solo of the day; again, solos flowed before riff-swaps stacked up brisk and brash short cameos.

After “Summertime” came “In Walked Horace” by J.J. Johnson – O’Shea made sure to let us know the composer was also an eminent trombonist – where Fisk’s alto led the way but section playing sparkled, too. This brought smiles all around, on the bandstand as much as in the crowd.

(Saxophonist/trumpeter) Benny Carter’s “A Walking Thing” started almost like a reprise of “Summertime” in its sassy stroll beat that soon picked up heft as the soloists ganged up on it. This felt too short since it swung with such charm, especially when Gleason ping-pong’ed playfully with the horns.

Gleason intro’ed “What Is This Thing Called Love” as a brash bossa blast, but O’Shea gave this chestnut its biggest push and highest polish and the all-in resolution really rocked the place. 

Then came blues-time in the well-paired “Blues in the Closet” of (bassist) Oscar Pettiford, then “Mo’ Bettah Blues” by (another bassist) Bill Lee for his son Spike’s film. In “Closet,” a walking bass line summoned first drums and piano then the horns, into a powerful swing-bus that picked up everybody. Patneaude was brilliant here, conducting a two-part conversation with himself. Slower and steady, “Mo’” mellowed things out in slow-drag fashion; low-pressure, maybe; but not low-energy.

They closed with (pianist) Horace Silver’s shimmering, simmering “Nutville,” a mid-tempo swing number like the earlier songs in the set. All the horns got good solos, then welded together in a brassy farewell.

Throughout, the soloists cooked quotes into the songs, as both spice and ingredients. The Dadtet not only knew the tunes in this 90-minute set inside out, they also knew how to distill, deconstruct and decant them into new containers.

The usual suspects showed up on Jay Street and had a fine time. That natty dude in black from shiny shoes to fedora set aside the Bible he’d been studying, tracing the words with his finger, to crouch before the band to shoot some video. A wiry woman of a certain age took over the dance floor all by herself in “In Walked Horace.” She had the moves and, like the band, she had the confidence, holding all eyes until she waved herself off as the crowd applauded. 

Jazz on Jay continues Thursday, Aug. 19 with the precocious (college student) saxophonist Henry Fernandez and his Quartet.