PortFolio Weekly

PortFolio Weekly
November 4, 2003

Jazz Scene: New Nostalgia

by Jim Newsom

From the opening ethereal synthaxe wash, it’s apparent that Soft Works doesn’t play your father’s jazz. Except that they might, if your father came of age during the early 1970s fusion explosion. You see, all four members of Soft Works played in Soft Machine back in those days, though not necessarily at the same time, and Soft Machine was one of the era’s most interesting purveyors of fusion and free jazz.

Bassist Hugh Hopper, saxophonist Elton Dean, guitarist Allan Holdsworth and drummer John Marshall got together last year in London for a weeklong recording session. The result, Abracadabra, has been released stateside on Tone Center records, a label devoted primarily to preserving and expanding the progressive side of electric jazz. It’s a futuristic trip that may, for old Soft Machine devotees, simultaneously conjure up nostalgic memories of the days when the boundaries between jazz and rock appeared to be dissolving.

Hopper’s mesmerizing bass lines induce the same trance-like effect as they did in the original Softs’ prime. Dean’s distinctive alto sax and saxello work, while thicker timbrally, still has the ring of recognition. The main textural difference I hear between the Works and the Machine is in Holdsworth’s synthesized fretwork, creating an otherworldly background upon which the foursome paints its musical pictures.

From the 7/4 time signature of the opening “Seven Formerly” to the free form explorations of “K Licks” there are enough familiar elements in Abracadabra to please any old Softie. For the uninitiated, the adventurous musicality of these four Brits should appeal to those looking for something fresh and invigorating.

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The Modern Jazz Quartet played music that could easily have been your father’s jazz. But it could also easily be yours. Their music sounds as timeless today as it did when they first came together 50 years ago. The new four-disc boxed set, The Complete Modern Jazz Quartet Prestige & Pablo Recordings, provides a glimpse of the MJQ at the beginning of their career in the early ‘50s, then leapfrogs across the decades to capture them in their later years as a performing ensemble in the 1980s.

This collection is literally a “must have” for jazz lovers. The Modern Jazz Quartet set the standard for class in jazz music. Although they were sometimes knocked for being too formal in their presentation, their legacy is an incredible one. This set includes the group’s earliest recorded works, including the classic 1953 release Django in its entirety. The Django album is truly one of the required recordings in any jazz collection. This boxed set also includes the MJQ’s session with a young saxophonist named Sonny Rollins and the mid ‘50s sessions released as Concorde.

In the middle of disc two, the set makes the flight from Rudy Van Gelder’s New Jersey home studio in 1955 to the Budokan concert hall in Tokyo in 1981. Interestingly, the music hardly changes. The interplay between pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, bassman Percy Heath and drummer Connie Kay is just as tight and crisp as it was when they were much younger men. The compositions are among the best known in jazz. The last two discs of this collection continue the journey through the early ‘80s, with live and studio recordings including the group’s appearance at the 1982 Montreux Jazz Festival.

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Next week is a great week for jazz in Norfolk. On Monday, trumpeter Tim Hagans sets up shop at ODU, concluding with a concert at 8:00 pm in Chandler Recital Hall with the John Toomey Trio, including Jimmy Masters and Howard Curtis. See the article in this issue for more information.

Next Friday night, the 14th, Jazz on Granby brings the Marc Copland Quartet with special guest Randy Brecker to the Roper Performing Arts Center. Copland is a highly respected pianist, and Brecker is one of the best known trumpet and flugelhorn men of his generation. It promises to be a night filled with musical fireworks.

The Woody Beckner Quartet can be found every Friday night at Kincaid’s, while Woody goes into duo mode each Saturday night at Brutti’s in Olde Towne Portsmouth. Steve Nygaard brings his Birdland Express into Brutti’s on Friday nights this month.

Jazz vocalist and saxman Charles Darden will be on Center Stage in the middle of Waterside on November 8th with pianist Tim McDonald and bassist Terry Burrell. On Wednesday the 19th, he’s at the Chrysler Museum with pianist Bob Hallahan. Against All Odds is also part of the Wednesday night jazz series at the Chrysler, coming in this week starting at 6:15 pm. Ra Jazz funkifies Huber Court next Wednesday evening.

Up in Williamsburg, Harris Simon tickles the ivories at Harry’s Tavern in Ford’s Colony each weekend this month. On Fridays he’ll have a trio plus singer; on Saturdays he goes it alone. Also up in th e colonial capital, the Jae Sinnett Trio featuring teenage piano phenom Justin Kauflin plays at the Williamsburg Regional Library on the 14th and 15th.

Besides the Tim Hagans gig on the 10th, bassist Jimmy Masters has a trio date at the Chrysler Museum on the 26th. He’s also got some high profile out-of-town stuff this month. On Thursday the 13th, he, Toomey and Curtis will be working with the great saxophonist/clarinetist Ken Peplowski in Beckley, West Virginia. The next week he plays with legendary jazzman Charles Lloyd at the Kennedy Center. Wow!

You can find me playing with my uncle Tommy Newsom on Monday, November 17th, at Café Rosso on 21st Street in Ghent. And Russell Scarborough’s Trio is in for two Tuesday nights at Offshore on Shore Drive in Virginia Beach, the 11th and 18th.

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