(Easy Star All-Stars)
Easy Star All-Stars, the Itals, and the Wailing Souls at the waterfront world tent last night. The only disappointment was having to leave the reggae fest to venture up the hill to the outstanding Sonny Rollins concert, at 8.
The feeling lasted all of about 20 minutes, washed away by Rollins' furious first blizzard of notes.
The following extended set included calypso (a nod to his parents, both native to the Virgin Islands) - including Russell Malone with guitar voicings that sounded like steel drums; straight-ahead bebop; blues (with Rollins' jaunty, tongue-in-cheek vocals on "Dirty Shame"); and finally two stunning show-closers with former recording partner Jim Hall. In A Sentimental Mood and If Ever I Should Leave You were simply breathtaking. An audible "ooh" rippled through the Flynn as the last notes still hung in the air.
Special note here on the ensemble, too: guitarist Russell Malone's classy, elegant lines wove a shimmering gossamer thread through each number - what a fine player. When his seat was filled by Jim Hall later in the show, it seemed fitting. Longtime partner bassist Bob Cranshaw also offered many tasteful moments, and percussionists Sammy Figueroa (congas) and Kobie Watkins (set) grounded the group with spirited solo work and solidly artful playing throughout.
One bone (not trombone, just bone) to pick here that I have to mention: the eternally temperamental sound system in the house was not on its best behaviour to host a night with the jazz legends. I was fortunate to have seats 8 rows back, dead center, and I strained to hear Rollins through the first several numbers when all of the other instruments were playing. What was the experience like for folks in the back, or on the balcony? He did come through loud and clear in the ballads, and by the end during his tradeoffs with Hall the mix sounded just fine. But no one should ever have to work that hard to hear Rollins. He certainly did his part.
After the first couple of tunes, the gentleman sitting next to me whispered to his partner, "He's got a lot of WIND!" That's a fact.
I came away from the night with my head spinning, a very happy jazz fan. A more musical evening I've seldom experienced.