Enjoyed Johnathan Blake’s Pentad at the Village Vanguard last night. Band included Dezron Douglas, bass; David Virelles, piano; Immanuel Wilkins, alto, Joel Ross, vibes. The front line and Virelles were really shredding — it felt old-school, in a way, like all the back to 1967, especially on an epic performance of Douglas’s “Shakin’ the Biscuits,” a quasi-boogaloo on an open vamp. The soloists preached with fervent virtuosity, Blake held it down, Douglas offered wild counterpoint a bit in the Jimmy Garrison lane. I’ve been hearing about Ross and indeed, the rumors are true, he’s a star, the audience almost got their feet when Ross finished his exciting solo with a laid-back bluesy phrase. Wilkins really delivered on both the boogaloo and on Blake’s “Clues,” an absurd retrograde of Monk’s “Evidence.” Special mention to Virelles, who unpretentiously takes the Andrew Hill–to–Muhal Richard Abrams thing at face value while adding supersonic post-Kenny Kirkland virtuosity. It was a great first set and I have no doubt they will be sounding better and better as the week goes on.
There usually seem to be more tenor players than alto players, but some fresh alto players are really starting to make their mark. Wilkins reminded me a bit of another somewhat new arrival, Roman Filiú, who, like Virelles, is bringing an authentic Cuban accent directly and smoothly into the modern scene.
I studied Filiu’s brilliant solos on a great new record by Marta Sanchez, El Rayo de Luz. Indeed, I contributed liner notes for the disc! My old friend Chris Cheek is is almost the band’s elder statesman, a master soloist with an approach both virtuosic and oblique. He plays high on his tenor and Filiú can plays low, so their sounds can blend perfectly together. Bassist Rick Rosato and drummer Daniel Dor complete the quintet.
Marta’s group plays at the Birdland Theatre tomorrow, December 5. They have just been touring Europe so I know the music will be at that next level. Here’s part of my notes to El Rayo de Luz:
Composition is more important to jazz than ever. The best and brightest are working away at their detailed scores, trying to make fresh sense out of the explosion of great American music from the last century.
It is helpful for every practitioner to draw on their own folklore. Marta Sanchez is from Madrid, and her modern jazz reflects something ineffably Spanish: Not in an overbearing way, but just as a visible part of the overall design.
I wrote the liner notes to Sanchez’s first Fresh Sound quintet disc Partenika. At the time I was pleasantly surprised at her command of composition, especially her unforced competence when writing for two saxophones. Five years later, her third disc in this configuration is considerably more advanced and offers more exposed piano improvisation…The band aces the hard charts, and their enjoyment is self-evident.