From the March 2011 issue of The New York City Jazz Record (formerly All About Jazz-New York):

When drummer Neal Smith took the stage at Miller Theatre (Feb. 5), eyes and ears were focused on the band’s pianist, Mulgrew Miller, who had recently suffered a stroke. Thankfully, Miller’s playing was undiminished, as pliant and rhythmically confident as ever. The rest of the lineup wasn’t strictly as advertised: altoist Andrew Beals stood in for Eric Alexander, and Steve Nelson joined unexpectedly on vibraphone, supplementing Mark Whitfield on guitar and Nat Reeves on bass. Naturally, all played well, but the music was hobbled by poor sound — with too many microphones and too much volume came a loss of the timbral subtlety ideal for acoustic jazz. Miller Theatre is a choice room for classical and new music, but throw in a drum kit and electric guitar alongside horn and piano and it can be hit or miss. Reeves’ bass sound was far too muddy to provide the vigorous anchor Smith needed. Hand it to the leader, though, for his song picks: “The Cup Bearers” and “With Malice Toward None” by the underrated Tom McIntosh; “The Holy Land,” a cooker by Cedar Walton; “A Portrait of You,” a lyrical bossa by Donald Walden; and “Sophisticated Lady,” Nelson’s vibraphone feature. Still, even with Mulgrew Miller at the bench, it was questionable to begin nearly every tune with a rubato piano intro. Rotating the personnel as the set progressed was a wiser move, and yet the prevailing feeling was one of claustrophobia, of too many instruments struggling for space. (David R. Adler)


Drummer Joe Farnsworth shares a birthday with the great Tadd Dameron, and that’s as good a reason as any to pay tribute to the late composer, arranger and bebop innovator, who died in 1965 at age 48. Taking up that task at Smoke (Feb. 11), Farnsworth led a quartet featuring Danny Grissett on piano and Gerald Cannon on bass. Tenor saxophonist Stacy Dillard found himself in the supremely unenviable position of filling in for George Coleman, but the young Midwesterner brought energy and insights of his own, warming up the dinner crowd — and himself — with a briskly uptempo “Sonnymoon for Two.” No, this was not an all-Dameron set, and yet the shout-chorus idea during the drum spotlight in “Nica’s Dream,” by Horace Silver, seemed to underscore Dameron’s influence, his way of importing big band aesthetics into small group contexts. Cannon took an assertive role as first soloist on Dameron’s “Good Bait” and threw wily harmonic curves leading up to Farnsworth’s climactic drum solo on “Super Jet.” The latter is pure Dameronia — an uptempo burner of a refreshing sort, neither blues nor rhythm changes, a challenge that Grissett and Dillard took up with relish. For sheer wit and skill, however, it was hard to top Grissett’s quotation of “52nd Street Theme” during the classic Dameron ballad “If You Could See Me Now.” It was a move that captured the soul of bebop itself, enfolding the angular and complex in a framework of singing, melodic eloquence. (DA)