At The Seasons last night, Jay Thomas arrayed his arsenal of reed and brass instruments across the front of the stage, some on stands, others lying at the ready. As in his new album, The Cats (Pony Boy Records), Thomas, pianist John Hansen, bassist Chuck Kistler and drummer Adam Kessler lived up to the CD’s subtitle, “Neo-Boogaloo.” Their tune list is replete with such ‘50s and ‘60s pieces as “The Jody Grind, “Soul Station,” “Nica’s Tempo,” and two fruitful boogaloo standards, Herbie Hancock’s “Canteloupe Island” and Grant Green’s “Canteloupe Woman.”
Thomas disclosed that his quartet’s repertoire has inspired a new name for the band. Henceforth, he announced, they would be known as The Canteloupes. Whether or not that proves to be a marketable handle, he is profitably mining a rhythmic vein of music. Early in the concert, Hank Mobley’s “Soul Station” set the audience to bobbing and weaving in their pews in the elegant performance hall in Yakima, Washington. The Seasons is a converted Christian Science Church noted for its acoustic purity.
The Boogaloo style and designation go back to New York in the early sixties when young Cubans and Puerto Ricans combined guanguancó, guajira, son montuno and other Latin rhythm constructs with elements of soul, funk and R&B in the Nuyorícan mix. Broadly applied, boogaloo seeped into the jazz mainstream, providing strength and seasoning in the work of musicians including Horace Silver, Herbie Hancock, Mongo Santamaría and Ray Barretto.
For all of the boogalooing during the Thomas concert, the high points of passion came with the leader on tenor saxophone in slow pieces—Freddie Redd’s “Just a Ballad For My Baby” and Billy Eckstine’s “I Want to Talk About You.” When he finished the Eckstine song, Thomas told the crowd that when he first heard John Coltrane’s recording, “my hair stood up and I got chills.” His own playing on the piece generated a similar sensation. Johnny Hodges’ 1941 “I Got Rhythm” contrafact “Squatty Roo” didn’t have much to do with boogaloo or balladry, but it gave the quartet an outlet for swing in the spirit of the jam session.
Thomas may be best known as a brass player, but Saturday night he went light on trumpet and flugelhorn, concentrating on tenor, soprano and alto saxophones. Hansen, a seasoned Seattle jazz veteran, found a productive middle way between his light touch on the keyboard and vigor powered by harmonic depth and an innate sense of swing. Frequent glances and smiles of approval among Hansen, Kistler and Kessler gave visual affirmation of what the audience could hear; the three enjoyed the unity and interaction that develops among a superior rhythm section in a working band.
Whatever you may make of some of the illustrations in the following video, this track from The Cats will let you hear a bright new band and see a few pictures of them.