Musicians at the Oregon Coast Jazz Party can count on a busy weekend. If this jewel of a little festival had a theme, it would be compatibility. Regardless of whether the musicians she assigns have previously played together, music director Holly Hofmann assembles the players and singers in combinations that yield results. For three days, she was on target, relying on her instincts as a musician and producer and on her faith in the common language of jazz.
Ms. Hofmann put Ken Peplowski at the helm of a quintet with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, pianist Bill Mays, drummer Chuck Redd and bassist Dave Captein. Playing tenor saxophone, Peplowski kicked off the set with a fast “Blue ‘n Boogie,” delivering the Dizzy Gillespie line in unison with Gordon and giving all hands plenty of solo space. He followed it with a standup routine of wit that in its dryness and quickness was a match for his playing. Whenever he spoke during the party, he had musicians and the audience chuckling or, often, laughing out loud. Peplowski reserved his seriousness for the music. He introduced Rodgers and Hart’s “A Ship Without a Sail” (1929) as “a ballad that too few people know about.” He played it on clarinet with deep tones and phrasing that captured the song’s sense of longing. “Rhythm-a-ning” brought out the vaudevillian in Gordon, whose trombone choruses incorporated an update of the early New Orleans jazz practice of imitating body and animal sounds. He did it with astonishing virtuosity. Following Mays’ impressive choruses on the Monk tune, Gordon returned, equally startling playing his slide trumpet. Redd’s crackling drum solo was his first statement of a weekend that saw the Washington, DC, veteran also playing vibes in a variety of settings.
Peplowski and company wrapped up with another Monk piece, “Hackensack,” the leader on tenor and Gordon putting vaudeville tendencies aside. His solo on the “Lady Be Good” changes was serious, straight-ahead and stimulating, in keeping with the example Mays set in his choruses.
The Clayton Brothers Quintet opened with alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton’s “Cha Cha Charleston,” which achieved the neat trick of combining those disparate rhythms. The piece’s metric challenges underlined the crucial relationship among bassist John Clayton, his pianist son Gerald and drummer Obed Calvaire. In his solo Calvaire combined rhythmic looseness and total control as Jeff Clayton and Terell Stafford punctuated with unison horn stings. Other highlights of the Clayton segment:
John Clayton’s impassioned bowing in Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain.”
Stafford’s solo, lightning fast and full of complexities, on “Runway.”
Holly Hofmann and Jeff Clayton combining their flutes in “Touch the Fog” from the Clayton Brothers CD The Gathering, her solo exotic, his on bass flute colored with humming/playing gruffness.
The impressionism of Gerald Clayton’s solo on “Touch the Fog” and his soloing throughout; he has become one of the music’s major young players.
In one of two late-night jam sessions at the Shilo Inn, vocalist Kenny Washington, captivated listeners most of whom were hearing him for the first time. In a typically perceptive OCJP mix-and-match, Hofmann teamed Washington with Calvaire, Captein, Gordon and guitarist Graham Dechter. By the time Washington and singer Denise Donatelli shared leadership of a set the next night, Washington had accumulated new admirers of his swing, cheerfulness, vocal technique and a range that equals Bobby McFerrin’s. On another set, Donatelli headed a trio with Dechter and Portland bassist Tom Wakeling. Warmed up, minor intonation adjustments out of the way, she combined personal phrasing and time feeling with a smoky quality that melded into crystal clarity in the high register on “If You Never Come to Me” and “Darn That Dream.”
Bill Mays’ History of Jazz Piano concert for a morning audience covered pianists from James P. Johnson to Herbie Hancock. Teddy Wilson, Bill Evans and Bud Powell were among the 13 whose styles Mays summoned without surrendering his individuality. Tommy Flanagan and Sonny Clark had to be set aside when time ran short. I had the privilege of providing narration leading into each of Bill’s segments. That put me in the second best seat in the house in the curve of the nine-foot Steinway as Mays poured himself into interpreting some of the pianists who influenced his development. It was a great experience, with a responsive audience, and so much fun that we’re thinking of doing it again sometime, somewhere.
Three Portlanders—bassist Captein, drummer Gary Hobbs and pianist Tony Pacini—teamed with Chuck Redd on vibes for a set that included a superb Captein solo on “Come Fly With Me.” Listening backstage, Hofmann said, “He is so solid.” In Duke Ellington’s “Main Stem,” Hobbs used brushes on cymbals and floated through a solo that incorporated air as an element. In the second jam session at the Shilo, the former Stan Kenton drummer showed another side of his talent as he propelled a sextet with Stafford, guitarist Dechter (pictured), Peplowski, Redd (vibes) and John Clayton. In a quintet session Saturday night, on Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing,” Stafford and Gordon explored different degrees of rambunctiousness. Old pals John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton followed, trading eight-bar phrases as they grinned at one another. Other high points of the set were Gordon’s trumpet and singing on “Black and Blue” in tribute to Louis Armstrong, and Gerald Clayton’s sensitive playing on the intriguing harmonies of his “Sunny Day Go By.”
The Sunday Morning wrap session began with Mays updating and expanding the repertoire of his CD Mays at the Movies. He, Wakeling (pictured) and Redd concentrated on music from films he admires, has written for, or on whose soundtracks he played. The admiration category included the classics “Laura,” “The Very Thought of You” and “Smile.” His own “Cool Pool” was a Miles Davis “All Blues” clone that he wrote for a producer who didn’t want to pay a heavy licensing fee to use the Davis original. He played on the sound track of the Coen Brothers’ Fargo, and gave the Newport audience a trio version of the film’s theme by Carter Burwell, which Mays described as “not a bad piece of music.” Mays’ composition “Judy” appeared in the appallingly violent Willem Dafoe psychological thriller Anamorph. Accordingly, he, Wakeling and Redd played it as what Mays called a “group grope,” free jazz with simultaneous improvisation that ended with the trio wreathed in smiles.
Atsuko Hashimoto reappeared as the head of a trio with Peplowski on tenor sax and Hamilton on drums. In “If I Had You,” she affirmed the B3’s capacity for dynamic subtlety as well as displays of power when she built to a crescendo, sustained it momentarily, then let the volume fall away without losing momentum as Peplowski reintroduced the melody. Hashimoto does not speak English but evidently understands it. Peplowski served as the trio’s spokesman. He reduced his leader and the audience to nearly helpless laughter after he promised that they would play Wagner’s Ring Cycle, then introduced “Shiny Stockings” by reminding Hamilton, “this is the tune we first danced to.”
The fun and games continued with the Clayton Brothers band augmented by Wycliffe Gordon. The trombonist, Terell Stafford and Jeff Clayton comprised a powerhouse front line in blues pianist Al Copley’s “Friday Night Strut,” with solos in kind by all hands. Stafford’s had a series of chromatic descending lines so logical, it sounded composed, as of course it was—on the spot. They followed with “This Ain’t Nothin’ But a Party” and spirited soloing on the 16-bar piece written by Jeff C., who led the audience and the band in a singalong. The crowd quickly picked up the lyrics, which consisted of the title sung repeatedly. It was nothin’ but a party all weekend, and it closed with the group jam on “Perdido” with which we began this series of Newport reports three days ago and three items below.