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North Side jazz shows highlight talents of groups

A jazz double-bill at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild turned into a bit of a battle of the bands Friday night.

While the competition was not defined, it was hard not to start comparing and judging the bands of bassist Buster Williams and saxophonist Sonny Fortune.

Two points clearly emerged.

• While Steve Wilson, the sax player in Williams’s band, is one of the most under-appreciated voices in jazz, Fortune, at 75, still is a demon of the instrument who can be dominant in a show.

• As good as the rhythm section of Fortune’s band is, it came nowhere near the work of Williams, drummer Lenny White and pianist Patrice Rushen.

The bands did two shows at the North Side site and the first performance was a strong display from each group. With Williams and Fortune both in their 70s, it would seem likely to have a show built around classic tunes.

But each band did only one of them — “Footprints” by Fortune and “Epistrophy” by Williams. Their other numbers were originals or songs written for their bands, giving the show a fresher feeling that it easily could have had.

Wilson set the bar high for sax work with his forceful and creative solos on “Where’s the Rainbow?” and “Triumph and Dance of the Butterfly.” He is a precise player who never drifts aimlessly in his solos, an aspect that was true every time he picked up his horn Friday.

Rushen also stood out in the show. Her solo in “Where’s the Rianbow” started closely near the theme and then proceeded to build around itself, almost in a classical fashion.

Drummer White was a powerhouse all evening, excelling on his work in “Epistrophy.”

It was hard to beat the work of this quartet, but Fortune quickly took the sax prize.

His quartet opened the show with “Footprints,” and Fortune provided a tone on his soprano sax that was warm, inviting but not weak.

His improvisational lines also were impressive. In “Come in Out of the Rain,” he put together an alto solo that was full of long, developing thoughts that never seemed to quit.

His band of pianist Michael Cochran, bassist David Williams and drummer Steve Johns were quite good, but were in heavy water after the other performance.

But the energy and talent of both groups created a nice compare-and-contrast situation.

Bob Karlovits is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7852.


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