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.