Jazz 88 All-Stars at the Liberty Hall Theatre
By Robert Bush | Posted January 30, 2012, 3:57 p.m.
Last night, another in a an excellent series of monthly jazz concerts was produced by the folks at Liberty Theatre at Paradise Village. This time, the featured act was the KSDS Jazz 88.3 All Stars, loaded with some of San Diego’s premier, yet under-sung players.
“The All-Stars were formed about eight years ago to do a promotional jingle for the radio station,” says drummer Barry Farrar, who has hosted one of KSDS’ best programs for more than 30 years, the always entertaining “Percussive Profiles,” which airs on Tuesdays at 10-12 p.m.
What makes “Percussive Profiles” such a satisfying show is the fact that it’s put together by a jazz drummer. There’s never a lack of enthusiasm, or absence of inside information, and Farrar, obviously knows and loves, the subject of jazz drumming. He also features live interviews with many drum legends on the show, an extra treat.
Since it’s inception, the All-Stars have focused the bulk of their attention to a celebration of the music recorded on the Blue Note label in the 1960s, and related material, including some excellent originals that reflect a similar oeuvre.
In that spirit, the band burst out of the gates with a version of Freddie Hubbard’s “Gibraltar,” a smoking tune from that tradition. Farrar set up a quasi-Latin groove, then trumpeter Steve Ebner and tenor saxophonist Bob Campbell jumped all over the intricate theme before launching into excellent, idiomatic solos.
As a soloist, Ebner navigates the divide between the breakneck velocity of Hubbard and the more nuanced chops of Woody Shaw quite well. Campbell usually reflects a tone similar to Stan Getz but his lines are more intense, like someone who has studied John Coltrane’s early work as well.
Joining Farrar in the rhythm section were two cats I wish I heard much more often: the ebullient Mikan Zlatkovich on piano, and the powerful veteran Bill Andrews on bass. I remember being enthralled by Andrews’ playing some 30 years ago, and he’s even better now. Zlatkovich is a master of the piano, on the opener, he displayed his absorption of McCoy Tyner, but you can hear everyone from Art Tatum to Bill Evans in his wide ranging personal distillation of the jazz piano aesthetic.
On “Senor Blues,” Ebner blew bright, fleet-fingered excursions with frequent stops at the blues, while Campbell wound tight arpeggios and knotty improvisations with a clear and calm tone. Zlatkovich seemed to watch his own handiwork with an ecstatic wonder, and Andrews took it into the basement with a solo loaded chock full of double-stops and slurring asides.
Blue Mitchell’s “Fugi Mama,” was an island-flavored tune in the spirit of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas,” and it bounced along joyfully, powered by the manic ornamentation of Campbell and the squeezed notes of Ebner, who shot skeins of scalar harmony into the rafters. Zlatkovich picked up the last line of Ebner’s solo, repeated it, then sent it into several harmonically related neighborhoods before unleashing a torrent of fresh ideas.
Jeffery Smith, the Managing Artist Director of the Liberty Theatre, and a celebrated vocalist in his own right, joined the band for a sensitive, yet powerful reading of Bill Evans’ “Detour Ahead.” Smith has a muscular baritone that retains the clarity of a Johnny Hartman, and the elasticity of Leon Thomas. He’s got a command of the emotional center of a ballad, and he makes you think about the lyrics.
Zlatkovich’s “This Is For Horace,” followed a brief intermission, and it was probably the standout moment of the concert. An excellent, swinging tune, this one also visited the blues in a deep, gutbucket fashion–eliciting exciting solos from the whole band, especially from the composer.
Wayne Shorter’s elliptical, modal masterpiece, “Speak No Evil,” followed. The pianist struck a free, rubato intro that set up the melody, and the furious swing and swagger of its groove. Campbell started out slow and easy, before erupting into altissimo register screams and squeals. Zlatkovich set dizzying streams of back and forth melodic ideas into motion and rocked some explosive block chord harmony. Both Campbell and Zlatkovich tossed in heavy quotes from another Shorter tune, “Witch Hunt,” for good meausre.
To close out this excellent evening of classic mainstream music, the band stormed through Duke Ellington’s ever popular “Caravan.”
Photo by Barbara Wise