Never has so much live jazz been played in Bend than this past weekend. A total of five gigs at three different venues brought the music to not only longstanding fans and but also to many new audience members.
The weekend started on a high note both in the venue and the music with the Mel Brown Quartet’s appearance at the first of the Jazz at The Oxford series.
Transforming the hotel’s ballroom into a dimly lit, comfortable nightclub setting was nothing short of miraculous. Add in some glorious music by Brown and company you have a special night.
Starting their first set with a lightly swinging version of Harry Warren’s evergreen, “You’re My Everything” before a nifty segue into an up-tempo version of “Stomping at The Savoy,” Brown’s quartet was off to a brilliant start.
And “brilliant” best describes the musicians who form this tight quartet that easily navigates a wide geography of material from standards to technically challenging numbers.
Pianist Tony Pacini played, as Oxford series co-promoter Marshall Glickman noted, “with obvious joy,” and superb technique. Bassist Ed Bennett proved a solid backbone for the quartet with his lush, full sound. Guitarist Dan Balmer’s virtuoso performance ranged from straight ahead playing to long chromatic runs with some funk licks here and there to keep listeners thoroughly engaged.
The affable Brown was, as always, a drummer whose presence drives a group but doesn’t overpower it. Yet when he’s called to the fore, he responds with solos that resonate with tasteful and subtle touches.
Walking back onto Bend’s streets after the set ended, I felt transported like I used be leaving a club like the Village Vanguard after a night of great listening.
Saturday at Joe’s
Saturday night at the Cascade Theatrical Company marked the 27Th edition of Jazz at Joe’s, a fixture for on the local music scene for several years.
Playing to a packed house, the Rose City Jazz Quartet delivered a solid set highlighted again, as with the Oxford gig, by superb playing. Quartet leader and tenor saxophonist, David Evans, is quick to state his love for playing Joe’s concerts and showed that in his exuberant playing. Evans is also the consummate on-stage host blessed with a wry, ironic sense of humor.
Accomplished bassist Phil Baker again showed a Joe’s audience his considerable chops. His solo on “Too Late Now” was a tour de force. Chicago native, pianist David Goldblatt, belied his somewhat scholarly looks by comping stylishly behind the other players and then swinging like mad when called on to solo.
The Quartet’s drummer, Ron Steen, has been and remains Portland’s go-to drummer for jam session, recording dates and in augmenting visiting groups in need of a drummer for a club date. Steen is facile with either sticks or brushes in hand and drove the proceedings along with verve.
The performance got an added treat when host Joe Rohrbacher lent his alto sax playing talents on two numbers. Now a quintet, the group soared especially through a driving version of “Alone Together” which Evans introduced with, “Joe and I are going to try and play alone, together. That’ll be a feat.”
Sunday at School
With the opportunity to show off its new digs along the river as well as bring back a sorely missed Bend music tradition of Sunday jazz brunches at the Bebop Coffee House, the Cascade School of Music hosted its first “rebop” event of the year on Sunday.
And what a Sunday morning it turned out to be with an overflow crowd, a hearty buffet and easy swinging music provided by The Groove Merchants (David Fahrner on vibes, John Allen on bass and Dillon Schneider of guitar) joined by Marna Larsen on vocals and local phenom, and recent New School (New York) music graduate, Justin Veloso on drums.
The atmosphere was casual, more of we’re-playing-in-your-living room setting than formal concert. In short, it was a relaxed way to spend a Sunday morning.
That, and a fitting end to a weekend that proved there’s plenty of support and love for jazz in Bend.