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Jimmy Owens

Steve Johns

Michael Howell,
Kenny Davis,

Daryl Johns

Erica Lindsay

Francesca Tanksley

Tani Tabal

Otto Gardner

Photos by Rudy Lu.

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w/ Erica Lindsey/Francesca Tanksley Quartet
Agnes MacDonald Music Haven
Schenectady, NY
August 2, 2009
by J Hunter

The concept of legends like John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie played for free on mobile stages in New York City neighborhoods is mind-boggling in the extreme, but Billy Taylor and Jazzmobile made it happen beginning in 1964. Since then, the non-profit organization has formed its own record label and makes appearances up and down the East Coast, including at Albany’s African-American Family Day 24 hours before this show. Taylor has moved on, but Jimmy Owens has picked up the ball, quarterbacking his quartet through a solid set of trad jazz in Schenectady’s Central Park.
Jazzmobile roared off the starting line with “Charlie Parker Will Be Remembered”, a delightful mash-up of some of Bird’s best licks. If there had been anybody on Music Haven’s hillside lawn area (A pre-show monsoon cut the crowd size down to about 40), they would have been knocked over by Owens’ crystal-clear, unmated trumpet. Michael Howell – like Ownes, a former Dizzy sideman – was a righteous wingman, picking up the energy of Owens’ solo and channeling it through some nasty Old School jazz guitar. Bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Steve Johns kept the train motoring along, taking separate directions on their respective solo spots: Davis (a veteran of Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band) stayed within the piece’s framework, while Johns worked in his own space before engaging the band in a series of sharp-edged trade-offs.
Dressed all in black (including a beautiful Japanese short jacket with blue collars and cuffs), Owens alternated trumpet and flugelhorn as he led us through a mix of originals and classics. “Peaceful Walking” – the title track from his latest CD – was a reggae-jazz hybrid that took advantage of Davis phat electric bass; Monk’s “Let’s Cool One” came off as a swirling up-tempo waltz; Owens’ passionate in-the-clear intro to “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” really took ownership of the Judy Garland standard; and Owens proved nothing is immune to interpretation by doing a pretty good soul-jazz take on Michael Jackson’s mega-hit “I’m Bad.”
Part of Jazzmobile’s mandate involves music education, and their guest star proved how important that element is. Daryl Johns, the drummer’s 13-year old son, came onstage carrying a blue-and-white electric bass that was almost half as tall as he was. A kid playing with adults isn’t a new thing, except the band usually carries him or her through one of the more well-known classics; in this case, Owens called out “Expression of a Feeling”, a fast track from Peaceful Walking. Sitting on a chair next to Howell, Daryl walked the pumping bass line like he’s been doing it since he could walk. His solo showed a real sense of structure and lyric, and his foundation lines were as solid as if they had come from a grizzled veteran. Daryl Johns – that’s the name to remember, because if he plays acoustic bass half as well as he plays Fender, we’ll be seeing him again.
I first saw Erica Lindsey and Francesca Tanksley last year at Justin’s, playing the CD-release party for Jeff “Siege” Siegel’s disc Live in Europe. I loved that show and that disc, but before I left, I got a copy of Lindsey’s smoking 2006 live disc Yes, which featured great performances by Tanksley, Lindsey, and Otto Gardner (who also played that night at Justin’s, subbing for regular Siegel Quartet bassist Danton Boller.) Both the performances and the material on Yes just floored me, so a chance to see this group in person was one I couldn’t pass up, deluge or no deluge.
The opener was a Tanksley composition that was so new, it didn’t even have a title. That little detail became microscopic as the band kicked into a marvelously aggressive piece that got everybody’s blood flowing, onstage and in the crowd. Lindsey’s tenor sax was as full and deep as ever, with bits of dissonance that gave her solo additional drama. Normally a piano is used to take the edge off a hot tune, but that didn’t happen here, as Tanksley displayed the forceful, percussive attack always makes me smile. How Gardner kept his axe in tune in that humidity is a mystery, but he masterfully held down the bottom while drummer Tani Tabbal added vibrancy and electricity to an already-sparkling piece.
Tabbal has played with several of the region’s leading lights (I watched him tear it up with John Menegon at Kingston International Jazz Festival a few years ago), but he is relatively new to this band. Even so, his interplay with Gardnerwas dead-on, particularly on the audience request “Stella by Starlight”; Lindsey confided that she always thinks of renowned tenorman Gene Ammons whenever she plays that song. Lindsey brings soul and passion to everything she plays, but on a straight blues like “Get Real”, she just opens up and roars. As powerful as Tanksley is, she can also attain a marvelous level of intimacy, as she did on the tender ballad “Dear Earth.” This group doesn’t get up the Northway much, and that’s a real pity. If they do come back, check them out, and don’t let the weather stop you.

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.