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by Lee Tomboulian
Hello. This is a new column. All that follows is my own opinion, and as everyone knows, opinions are plentiful and cheap. These opinions will reflect what I see going on jazz-wise in Central Arkansas.
Well, what jazz? Outside of the Monday night scene at the Afterthought, there hasn't been much lately. Cupid's was bravely booking jazz acts there until its April demise. Lugano's had announced a jazz policy upstairs a while back but basically booked MOR acts until recently. The Eddie Harris concerts and the UAPB reunion rehearsal concert were excellent steps but more on that later. One of the reasons for the dearth of live jazz might be that club owners like to turn a profit quickly, even wealthy club owners. Jazz, in practice, takes a while to build up a devoted following.
When I say jazz, I mean to say solo improvisation within a group format, based on pop standards from the last forty years, that "swings" (exhilarates through the replication of the human heartbeat--just one definition of a word that defies definition). Club Managers will use the word "jazz" in their ads as a buzzword but often won't stay with the music called "jazz" long enough for it to catch on with the general public. This is also true of the short-lived Cajun's Wharf Sunday night jazz series, which grew steadily over a month until, ironically enough, it packed the place on the night that the band was dismissed.
Yet, saints be praised, Pizza D'Action jumped into a Thursday night format featuring the Darrin Lawrence Quartet and it has lasted a month so far. Last Thursday, the joint was full of listeners sometimes quiet, sometimes rowdy, as the band wound its way through several sets of standards tunes. Charles Thomas demonstrated his bebop magic despite a lowly Wurlitzer electric piano without a sustain pedal and Buck Powell, the Bo Jackson of jazz, sounded surprisingly assured and soulful on bass, considering it's his third instrument (fourth?) after piano and tenor. Dave Rogers was adventuresome, if a little incoherent in his solos. Darrin is a fine player, with a nice sound and ideas. Despite intonation problems that night, he carries the frontman position well. I wish he would consider playing piano, which he plays well, in the first set before Charles gets there, because the tenor, bass and drums sound can be a little thin, even for, say, Branford Marsalis when he does it.
Lugano's is going forward with its special jazz event program. The aforementioned UAPB Reunion band, the New Directions Jazz Quintet, played that rehearsal-concert on Saturday November 4, and it was also packed and noisy. A core group of players, UAPB alumni got together for their 20 year reunion, having spread all over the U.S. and elsewhere. James Leary, the bassist, had been taught by Art Porter coming up at Parkview, and is now playing in Vegas. He talks with the bass. Sonelius Smith, the pianist, was funky in a cliche sort of way, but energized later on, spinning heartfelt lines. John Stubblefield, tenor saxist, played tentatively but later on, like Smith, opened up and bled, so to speak. Larry Ross, the drummer, never really cut the ties to Little Rock (he works at Southwestern Bell), yet his empathy and performance moxie made up for any broadening he might have missed. Larry always sounds like himself and nobody else, and that's jazz to me Jack! Ben Jones, the trumpeter, had that warm, expansive tone that's so ravishing. Together, the set I saw started with cliched funkiness and gradually gathered conviction until finally Darrin Lawrence on sax and Doug Elliot on trombone got up to jam as a small big band might. Old home week should always sound this good.
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