LIVE: AWAN RASHAD QUARTET @ Jazz on Jay #15, 09/23/2021

Calling an audible under the Jazz on Jay tent Thursday, alto saxophonist Awan Rashad counted his quartet into “Gone With the Wind” as a near-gale ripped through Jay Street.

(OK, sorry – I learned my weather fixation from my late mother whose childhood on the Texas plains gave her a wary eye toward the skies. But I digress.)

The last (of 15) Jazz on Jay free outdoor shows starred Rashad with baritone saxophonist Hunter Pullen, drummer Simon Ribas and bassist Tarik Shah – introduced aptly as “maestro” to honor his half-a-generation seniority. Absence of a keyboard or guitar comping chords gave the horns a freewheeling gusto they clearly enjoyed.

Photo by Rudy Lu

All the music was happy, even “Poor Butterfly,” the sole ballad in the 90-plus-minute set. And most bounced with bop glee.

Their opener “I’ll Remember April” nodded to the possibility of rain only in its title but was otherwise jaunty and up, even as the first of four siren interruptions threatened, but failed, to push Pullen off his stride. The saxes tag-teamed at the end, though Rashad soloed through the coda.

Sonny Rollins’s tropical, Caribbean “St. Thomas” grew more and more staccato, especially as Shah dug in on a propulsive solo before Rashad again wrapped things up. 

Then Rashad dedicated “Gone With the Wind” to the weather (yeah, I know). This time, a passing train offered a distraction the players managed to ignore as they tossed the tune around playfully, clearly loosened up now. They bounced it all over, but never went too far outside for the young folks dancing right in front of the bandstand. They had FUN, including the young woman with the cane.

Photo by Rudy Lu

Rashad didn’t have to introduce “Mack the Knife,” though anybody who walked in during Pullen’s solo might have needed a map to find it. Pullen spiced his runs with squawks and squeals that felt as if the band had hijacked Mack into a cab bound for a lively neighborhood of neon and surprise. Those guys must have been listening to Dizzy’s “Salt Peanuts” before the gig since that distinctive cadence popped up in Ribas’s drums break – then later in “In Walked Bud.” It was brisk, bright and bubbly.

In between, Rashad’s alto sang first in simple yearning, then in more complex bursts of feeling in “Poor Butterfly” as Pullen laid out and Shah eased soft arco bass underneath. 

Monk’s exuberant “In Walked Bud” cranked up the energy again, the two saxes conversing and commenting, coming to agreement – playing a bebop handshake in the recap.

In the short discussion to select their last number, Shah may have reminded Rashad Thursday was John Coltrane’s birthday, as the bassist noted at my table before they started. And Rashad was all in on ‘Trane’s “Mister P.C.” (for bassist Paul Chambers), a mid-tempo blues. The fourth siren of the set again failed to dent the players’ momentum. While the saxes shone on this righteous reeds showcase, Shah again got all of it in a solo of hot-spots and hesitations that turned the beat inside out. 

When Pullen and Rashad took over once again, they flew high and stretched the song, reluctant to land. 
In this tune and others, the two saxes blasting together, that was this show’s most exciting and challenging sound. When they fired together, this wasn’t a leisurely shared stroll, no genteel tiptoe through the tulips.
It was more like a race to see who could get deeper and farther and faster into a song.

And it was a race the audience won – when we could listen fast enough.

Thursday’s show concluded the Jazz on Jay season, but Rashad returns to the neighborhood Saturday in the Kids Arts Festival, playing duets as Dueling Saxophones with Henry Fernandez who played the Aug. 19 Jazz on Jay show. The Kids Arts Festival presents free performances and workshops from noon to 4 p.m. at Schenectady City Hall.

Photo Gallery by Rudy Lu

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