My title is particularly true when you have Dan Block, Harry Allen, and Scott Robinson as the three reed wizards, floating over and around the playing of Rossano Sportiello, piano; Gene Bertoncini, guitar; Jon Burr, bass; Pete Siers, drums. All of this took place in front of “my own two looking eyes” at Jazz at Chautauqua this past September.
I’ve seen same-instrument extravaganzas slide into machismo, but it didn’t happen with these improvisers, who know how to play softly, with feeling, with intensity. Dan Block certainly knows how to program a set — some Fifties Basie (composed by Freddie Green, I believe), a less-played Irving Berlin composition from CALL ME MADAM, and a sweet Ellington classic.
CORNER POCKET (or UNTIL I MET YOU) started things off in a properly rocking groove: Rossano easily gets that Basie glide without copying the most tired trademarks of the Count’s style. Pete Siers and Jon Burr rock without raising the volume, and even when you don’t quite hear what Gene Bertoncini is doing, the musicians do — he’s in there, as they used to say:
And the sweetly swaying conclusion (I was so delighted by what Gene had played and by the smiles on the musicians’ faces that I missed the start of Rossano’s solo):
THE BEST THING FOR ME (WOULD BE YOU) is often mis-announced as THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE ARE FREE, but we know that the first title is sometimes truer than the second. I first heard the song on a wonderful Vanguard session led by Mel Powell, with Ruby Braff, Skeeter Best, Oscar Pettiford, and Bobby Donaldson, all masters. Here the first chorus is For Saxes Only, then with the rhythm section joining in, Scott, Harry, Dan, Rossano, and Gene — each one his own brilliant shooting star:
And the best thing for us is more (beginning with an energetic conversation among the horns and ending at such a high level of collective improvisation, those lines weaving and swirling masterfully):
I associate IN A SENTIMENTAL MOOD with Vic Dickenson and the sound of the early-Thirties Ellington band (Otto Hardwick singing out the lead): here, the eloquent melody statement and embellishment is handled nobly by Jon Burr, before the horns have a quietly rueful conversation backed by the whispering rhythm section:
More than enough inspiration for anyone!