Friday, Manhattan Transfer opened a three-night stand to a packed house at the Triple Door and while they were down a man — Tim Hauser’s out, having back surgery — Trist Curless, whom you may remember from the group m-pact, which got its start in Seattle — did a stellar job filling in.
From the sizzling quartet’s first “Ooo-bop!” on “Tuxedo Junction,” I was reminded that despite a kneejerk aversion to the glitz of this group, the luxuriousness of its shimmering blend and its crisp delivery of scat solos are hard to resist. So why try?
It was pretty much a “greatest hits” night, from “The Duke of Dubuque,” featuring Curless on an athletic bass scat solo, and the retro-swing of “Java Jive” to a stunningly fast “Air Mail Special” (complete with Charlie Christian solo), Bird’s “Billie’s Bounce” and the megahit “Birdland.”
The quartet, accompanied by a piano trio, won the crowd over immediately with its champagne stage presence, banter, and just enough choreography — steps, freeze-frames and clever stage blocking — to fill the huge Triple Door stage in a way most groups never do. At one point, Alan Paul held up a 78 rpm record of the Ink Spots and facetiously explained what it was, highlighting the group’s origins, lo these many years ago, as a bunch of folkies entranced by antique-store swing.
Janis Siegel did herself proud imitating a muted trumpet solo on Ella Fitzgerald’s classic first hit, “A-Tisket A-Tasket” and got the crowd clapping on the backbeat for the infectious rock classic, “Boy From New York City.” Curless acquitted himself mightily on the Eddie Jefferson vocalese solo on “Billie’s Bounce.” Cheryl Bentyne, the once-local gal (from Mt. Vernon) joked that she only hung out with the outsider theater crowd in high school, tossing out hellos to anyone who might have come to pay their respects (there were quite a few). She then delivered an Elvis-reverb-style “I’m Shakin” with a nice swagger.
The crowd brought the quartet back for a two-song encore — “Route 66” and “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” — but the group quickly repaired to the green room to rest up before the second show.
It was an upbeat night — maybe too upbeat, ultimately — as MT sang only one ballad the whole night, a version of “Candy” inspired by the Pied Pipers. That imbalance, combined with the overcaffeinated tempos of the rest of their material — geez guys, take a breath once in a while! — gave the show a bit of a hurried feel. That’s a shame, because when these four voices blend at a leisurely pace, they are incomparable.
But hey, overall, it was a delightful night. The group continues through Sunday at the Triple Door.
Darcy James Argue
So what other jazz composer do you know who names a tune after a footnote in a David Foster Wallace novel?
None, I daresay. But that’s what Darcy James Argue did for “Flux in a Box,’ which comes from a conceit in Wallace’s doorstop of a novel, “Infinite Jest.”
Vancouver, B.C.-raised Argue conducted the Cornish Contemporary Big Band Thursday in a concert of his unusual music, which drives forward in great waves, combining big band instruments in nontraditional ways. Argue’s stuff is tough, full of quick meter changeups and difficult tutti passages, but the CCBB did a pretty good job getting the music across.
I particularly enjoyed tenor saxophonist T. J. Kottsick’s gritty solo on “Phobos” and the drum outro by Delaney Levin on “Ferromagnetic.” “Drift,” which showed the lyrical influence of Argue’s mentor Bob Brookmeyer as well as recalling, in a good way, the warm, rich brass blends of Henry Mancini, grew to a great, singing climax.
It’s great to have a new unit in town that will tackle tough contemporary charts, not to mention showcasing some of the finer young players in town. I look forward to hearing more from this group.
The CCBB was lucky enough to have two mentors in town earlier in the week who were instrumental in shaping Argue’s big band music in New York. British Columbian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her husband, drummer Jon Wikan, rehearsed the CCBB before the show. Jensen also worked a few days with the Roosevelt High School Jazz Band and performed last Friday with Seattle saxophonist Steve Treseler at the Royal Room at his record release party for “Center Song.”
Treseler’s brainy compositions are intriguing, but Jensen, though surely not intending to upstage anyone, was the star of the show. Her harmonic sense, alternately lyrical and pungent phrasing and easy flow of ideas have always put her in the top tier of trumpet players, but there was something new that night. It wasn’t until we chatted the next day over at Cornish, after the CCBB rehearsal, that I realized what it was. She has a new horn.
“It was made for Chris Botti,” said Jensen, of the $17,000 Monette jewel, “but he decided he didn’t want to switch.”
David Monette has been making horns outside Portland for quite some time now, but when Wynton Marsalis started playing one, his stock soared.
“It’s just so easy to play,” said Jensen. “But if you come to it all tensed up, it won’t perform.”
Indeed, Jensen, encouraged by Monette, practices tai ch’i and other disciplines to keep her “balance” just right when she’s playing. The horn she bought has a large bell, which deepens the tone, she says.
“I stopped playing flugelhorn,” she said, of the darker-hued horn. “I don’t need it.”
Jensen became a mom a couple of years ago — her insanely cute 2 1/2-year-old daughter, Karinna, was along for this tour — and she and Jon recently escaped the rat race of Manhattan for a house in Westchester County, not far from where Dave Douglas lives.
“It’s so great to have a yard,” she said.
Hey, they deserve it. They’ve been toughing it out in Astoria, Queens for years. Expect new material from Ingrid and pianist/accordionist Gary Versace as well as collaborations with her sister, Christine, who composes for her own terrific big band.
There’s plenty more on deck at the Earshot Festival, but my immediate plans include dropping in on Bill Frisell Sunday, over at the Jones Playhouse Theater in the U District, where he’s playing with drummer Ted Poor and bassist Luke Bergman, both teaching at the U.
Complete info at www.earshot.org.
See you out there!