Keith Pray, Steve Lambert
photos by Rudy Lu
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STEVE LAMBERT SEXTET
May CD Release
A Place for Jazz
First Unitarian Society
November 6, 2009
by J Hunter
It’s been a long time coming. Although Steve Lambert has been part of the scene for quite some time, the horn player had yet to get his own music on his own disc. What’s more, the sextet-based sounds he’d be playing at this CD-release show had been making infrequent appearances at area shows over the last few years, and had wowed the crowd every time. The waiting ended with this month’s release of May (PlanetArts, 2009), and – judging from the parked cars lining either side of the sidewalk outside the Whisperdome – a lot of folks wanted to be part of the official launch.
You could have played Six Degrees of Capital Region Jazz as Lambert and his players stepped onto the stage. Most of the band had played with Empire Jazz Orchestra, or for altoist Keith Pray’s Big Soul Ensemble; Mike DelPrete is the bassist for tenorman Brian Patneaude’s regular quartet, and delPrete has worked with drummer Joe Barna and pianist Dave Solazzo in the Barna/Russo Group and Michael Benedict’s Jazz Vibes; Lambert had sat in with Jazz Vibes during their CD-release party at Cohoes’ Bread & Jam Café, where Barna now hosts a weekly jam session and appears occasionally with his own rotating-cast outfit Sketches of Influence. (Confused yet? I sure am! So let’s get back to this group, shall we?)
Sitting in the first row for the Lambert Sextet is like standing in front of an oncoming semi: You can’t believe how something that powerful could move that fast, but you’re too paralyzed to get out of the way. Pray and Patneaude flanked Lambert as they hit the intro to May-opener “Double Tough” with extraordinary force, flying tight formation on the first few bars before breaking into complex harmony for a few measures more. This piece is a beast on May, and it’s just as nasty in concert. Lambert took first solo, firing blinding trumpet lines towards the top of the Whisperdome while Barna, DelPrete and Solazzo maintained a breakneck foundation. Each band member got a spotlight moment of some size, and by the time the front line nailed the smash-cut ending, the audience was completely out of breath.
Lambert’s name is on the marquee, but the three-headed monster front line is the big star. Almost every piece of the two-set show used them as a starting point, either as a unit (the swinging swaying “May”, Jule Styne’s jumping “It’s You or No One”) or with one member out front while the other two harmonize on the fills (Jimmy van Heusen’s smoky ballad “Like Someone in Love”, the epic encore “Mack the Knife”). The exception was Lambert’s mournful composition “Yearning Lost”, which began with Solazzo in the clear on a heartbreaking meditation. Solazzo’s elegant style is sorely missed round these parts, but this appearance saw him mixing that elegance with a forceful percussive style that kept things hopping whenever the front line took an in-song break.
As great as the beginnings were, the front line’s three-way vocalizations on the heads to “Mack” and “Entomology” (Lambert’s Charlie Parker tribute) were mind-boggling; the “Mack” three-way had the kind of sound and commitment you’d expect to hear at Preservation Hall. All Lambert’s arrangements have a Tadd Dameron vibe about them, with a rich multi-layered quality that few composers are willing to attempt. Patneaude and Pray were the same as they ever are, which is to say brilliant: Patneaude’s hushed duo with DelPrete on Stevie Wonder’s “Ma Cherie Amour” brought the piece’s love-song essence home, while Pray boosted Lambert’s stealth soul-jazzer “Bellicose Belle” to stratospheric levels. Barna is relatively restrained on May, but he was channeling Buddy Rich on this evening, setting off bombs and flourishes at will and tearing off thunderous solos on “Entomology” and “Steve’s Tune.”
Lambert seemed awed the first time he spoke with the crowd, telling us “I’ve been coming to concerts here since I was a kid.” There wasn’t anything hesitant about his playing, though, as he alternated between trumpet and flugelhorn throughout the evening: The former instrument brought a laser-like focus to big bright numbers like “Double Tough” and Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty”; the latter’s rounder, softer sound fit passionate pieces like “May” and “Yearning.” Lambert gave his people ample room to move inside each number, but no solo ever made a piece lose direction.
As previously noted, it was a long time coming. But then I’ve always held to the maxim “Take your time, do it right.” Steve Lambert took his time, he definitely got it right, and now the whole world gets to know it now. And that is way cool.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz Programming) and Q104 WQBK/Albany. He is a frequent contributor to the web site All About Jazz and to the monthly music magazine State of Mind. He currently resides in Clifton Park.