LIVE: The Van Dyck Allstars Sax Summit @ the Van Dyck, 5/15/15
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
During the introduction to his arrangement of Mark Turner’s “Myron’s World”, Adam Siegel shared about how happy was to be playing with people that had inspired him for so many years. I know how Siegel feels: When I first started writing about jazz in Greater Nippertown, the five young “all-stars” at the front of the Van Dyck’s stage – tenormen Brian Patneaude and Lee Russo, altoists Siegel and Keith Pray and baritone saxman Jeff Nania – were either just starting to make inroads on the scene or were nowhere to be seen at all. Being able to witness their respective creative accomplishments over the last 10 years has been like watching your kids grow into adulthood – and these were “the kids” when I started out. Now they’re the heavyweights, and they played like champions on this night.
Patneaude’s charts for “Dear John” were tight as Jeff “Siege” Siegel’s drums as the octet launched the first set with the hard-bopping Freddie Hubbard composition. Russo’s primary ax is alto sax, which might explain why he started so high on his opening solo, but he would find the tenor’s full range as the night went on; Nania was also away from his usual tool, but he played that bari like he’d been weaned on tapes of Gary Smulyan, offering lines with both power and shape; Of course, tenor sax is Patneaude’s home and hearth, and he had the tune right in his sights as he charged through the piece’s final solo. Dave Gleason’s comping piano chords rose and rose while bassist Otto Gardner ignored his lack of amplification and attacked the piece the only way he knows how – flat out.
Pray’s arrangement of “Minority” had big fun with time signatures, giving it a kind of “Night in Tunisia” vibe, while Nania’s work-up of Bob Dorough’s “Nothing Like You” went right for your throat. These two pieces let Pray and Siegel show that not all altos are alike. For Pray, it’s Maceo Parker Goes to Birdland, with that tons-of-fun tone I’ve loved ever since it first hit me. Siegel, however, went almost entirely in the opposite direction, his own aggression cloaked by this borderline-mellow airy sound that brought Paul Desmond to mind. It wasn’t until “Myron’s World” that I saw Siegel’s inspiration was closer to Turner than Desmond, and that brought even more variation to an already multi-faceted evening.
With the exception of “Andrew’s Anthem” (Patneaude’s wonderful tribute to his 1-year old son), the first set stayed pretty traditional, even when the five saxmen grappled with the mind-boggling Supersax arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Moose the Mooche.” However, a new level of interesting was revealed with the Summit’s choice of a second-set starter, Miles Davis’ “Flamenco Sketches.” A beautiful tune on its face, it’s not exactly the attention-getter you associate with opening numbers. As such, even though the arrangement let every player strut his stuff (including Gardner, whose sound problems had been suitably addressed), it took a while for some of the crowd’s intermission discussions to pipe down.
The surprises didn’t stop there, though. Patneaude, Pray and Nania left the stage to Siegel and Russo, who served up some truly unique harmonies on Lenny Tristano’s “317 32nd St.” And when their partners returned to the stage, we got deep into the avant-garde as Nania’s pulsing vamp led the group into the World Saxophone Quartet’s “Hattie Wall.” The traditionalists may not have dug it, but those of us who love the fringe were having the time of our lives. Things got back on the straight and narrow with Dave Gleason’s gorgeous write-up of Ellington’s “I Got It Bad,” and then it all ended with a huge bang thanks to another Supersax attack on Charlie Parker, this time on “Confirmation.”
As anyone who’s had too many drinks with me will tell you, I’ve been rabbiting on for years about how we need to give the next generation of Capital Region jazzers all the support they can carry, or we’re only trying to stay in a time that’s long since passed. Happily, these five mammoth players have become the change they were waiting for. Now it’s their turn to give the oncoming generation a high-water mark to shoot for, just like Nick Brignola, Lee Shaw and Leo Russo and a host of others who laid the foundation for this great scene inspired them.
More of Rudy Lu’s photographs at Albany Jazz