Sunday, at the Masten Jazz Festival, was a day to honor a couple of folks who played big parts in the local music community: James “Pappy” Martin, the late bassist and a key person in the development of the Masten Jazz Festival, and Elvin Shepherd, the former trumpeter-turned-saxophonist who mentored Grover Washington Jr. and others.
Between every set performed there were moments when Martin’s name was mentioned and his memory honored; Shepherd got his due in the early part of the day when Herbie Small Jr. and his group took the stage, playing some of Shepherd’s favorite tunes.
First up for the day, however, was the Larry Salter Soul Orchestra, a big band most familiar to folks attending its sessions at the Colored Musicians Club. The group ran through a variety of standards associated with Duke Ellington, Billy Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and others, but the performances were workmanlike rather than inspiring. There were some good players in evidence, but there were too many instances of suspect intonation and ragged section work marring the project.
Things improved during the Herbie Small Jr. setlist as the quartet played their way through “Darn That Dream,” “It’s Easy To Remember,” and “Cooking At the Continental.” Small is a proficient saxophonist, and pianist George Caldwell delivered the chords for the band to take flight on.
While an upgrade in performance, the best parts of the concert in Martin Luther King Park were to still come.
Things snapped into place as soon as Caldwell returned to the stage as co-leader with sax master Bobby Militello for a set with no discernable flaws. They opened with a barn-burner performance of Donald Brown’s “New York” that showcased the leaders and their compatriots, Tim Clark on trumpet, bassist Sabu Adeyola and drummer Sean Jefferson.
Every note was perfectly placed with no weakness evidenced by any of the players. It was sheer joy to hear them riff their way through a set of highlights including Thelonious Monk’s “Bye-Ya,” a killer arrangement of Jerome Kern’s “Taking A Chance On Love,” and others.
Anderson sat behind the drum kit during the next set as well, providing a stylistic shift from the late ’60’s/early ’70’s mindset of the Caldwell/Militello group and the soul jazz pulse of the Rochester based organ/guitar/drums trio of Paradigm Shift (with guest trumpeter, the amazing Jeremy Pelt). Based on this performance, it would be worth the drive to Rochester to see the trio and to wherever to catch Pelt’s spare yet fluid soloing.
Drummer Nasar Abadey brought his Supernova quartet to the stage, a group that also featured Buffalo native sax master Joe Ford. Winding up the evening with a set heavy on material from their latest album, they presented yet another stylistic profile in comparison with the other bands on the docket. Their sound slid towards the John Coltrane side of things, especially when Ford was on soprano sax. Abadey is an interesting composer and so too was the group’s steady and fluid bassist, James King. Allyn Johnson’s piano playing was a perfect fit in the mix, with just enough heart to help balance the intellectual drift of the band.