Great Sounds Falling Like Autumn Leaves
There’s still a buzz in the jazz community that has carried over from the We Four appearance at Edmonton’s Yardbird Suite on Sunday October 30.
I certainly can’t remember when an act of the calibre of We Four played an Edmonton date that wasn’t associated with a festival and Edmonton jazz fans responded accordingly, although there is always room for one more.Javon Jackson
We Four is a quartet led by tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, and the master musicians in We Four comb the books of John Coltrane and string together material taken from a variety of sources that feature the legendary saxophonist and composer who left a breath-taking body of work in his short 41 years on the planet.
To walk out of the alley behind the Yardbird Suite and Catalyst Theatre and around the corner of the parking lot to see a lineup extending from the foyer of the Yardbird out onto 103 street, couldn’t help but slap a smile on the face of any jazz fan.
The scene needs nights like these where patrons are showing up 90 minutes before the featured artists make their way to the stage, where the venue house manager or a volunteer is repeatedly trying to slide one more fan into a spot between two tables and the bar is doing brisk business.
That the ticket price was $16 for members and $20 for non-members per set was one of the bargains of the year.
Some of us would have likely dropped $10 a tune from this foursome who, on this particular night, drew from Coltrane’s signature pieces, along with compositions from Coltrane’s associations and collaborations with Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis.
Jackson’s sweeping but subtle range is astounding and the dynamics, coupled with his gorgeous tone, combined for solos that were emotionally penetrating and sonically stunning.
At 82 years of age, Jimmy Cobb continues to work with an economical attack that during a passage can anchor a soloist’s excursions before he sets a new course for his associates mid-stream in a piece. Standing next to and conversing with Cobb after We Four had finished playing was an eye-opener as well.
The only member of the quartet not dressed in a custom-tailored suit, as he prefers a sweatshirt and well-worn baseball hat combo, Cobb has an aura that suggests that he is as centered as one can possibly be, that he is remarkably fit and ready for another 20 years of action on the bandstand.
Between sets bassist Nat Reeves was mingling with members of the crowd by the bar and the man who spent years working with Jackie McLean was genuinely pleased to be playing a date on the Canadian prairies.
“I just wish we had a day to hang out and get to see a bit of the city, but this is a great club,” said Reeves, who not only tours with We Four and Pharoah Sanders, but teaches at the University of Hartford and is a member of the Jazz Studies faculty.
“It’s sort of playing hooky. But the school likes to have me out on the road from time to time. I get to interact with young musicians and they become interested in our program. Teaching was something I always wanted to explore and it is such a great environment, I may be teaching but I am also constantly learning. But right now I get to play with Jimmy Cobb,” added Reeves with ear-to-ear grin, while referring to his friend who is the only living member of the ensemble Miles Davis put together for the Kind of Blue sessions .
A few minutes later Reeves was back at it, the pulse of his upright bass sliding through pieces like Someday My Prince Will Come and an articulate and sensuous reading of My One and Only Love that echoed Coltrane, while channeling the voice of singer Johnny Hartman who recorded the piece with Coltrane.
I haven’t even mentioned the nuance, attack, support and wonderfully constructed solos from Mulgrew Miller who, like Jackson, is a member of the Art Blakey and Jazz Messengers alumni association.
A night to remember at the Yardbird and one that is a case in point, because when talent of this stature is presented, the community responds accordingly.
Ron Rault, David Rea and Peter North in 2010
It hasn’t been a great time in the world of blues over the last few months with the passing of Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Honeyboy Edwards and Pinetop Perkins and earlier this week word came down the wire that acoustic bluesman David Rea
had passed away in Portland, Oregon.
Rea was one of the few guitar players out there who had been taught and mentored by the likes of Mississippi John Hurt and the Reverend Gary Davis, and not only could he play the styles of those masters with authority and his own unique turns, he could always flesh out a show with some great stories about hanging with those gentlemen back in the sixties in Toronto.
At that time Rea was working steadily with Ian and Sylvia and recording with Gordon Lightfoot, and when not on tour with the Tysons he would be playing late into the night with many of the great bluesmen who were gigging at places like the Riverboat.
Rea was incredibly well-versed in so many traditional folk guitar styles that you were never quite sure which direction, or how many directions, he might head, but at the end of the day there was always something magical or memorable about a David Rea show.
His Grace of God album that was cut for Capitol in the early seventies was an example of the vast tract of musical landscape he cut across. One track would be hardcore traditional Appalachian folk with Mike Seeger and another would find him plugging in and going for “the groove” with drummer Dino Danelli of The Rascals and members of Mountain.
I kept going back to that album over the years, loving his version of Tom Green County Fair and a live musical narrative recorded at the Fillmore East in New York City. One day in 1999 I decided to track him down, and found out he was living on Bainbridge Island near Seattle.
David accepted an invitation to participate in a show I was producing under the banner Come On In My Kitchen, and he lent instant credibility to the show. Not only did he deliver on stage, but while doing interviews with the press he could talk at length about the sessions he participated in, playing guitar for the likes of Jesse Winchester and Judy Collins, and how he came to co-write the rock anthem Mississippi Queen.
Between ’99 and February 2010 David came up and played Alberta dates on five occasions and while we experienced some rough patches it was apparently all worth it, as I have been listening to some of the board tapes from dates and sessions over the last few days. There are some exceptional moments documented from shows at Festival Place and the Fiddler’s Roost. He also turned in a wonderful interpretation of Ian Tyson’s The Gift, for the Tyson Tribute album of the same name, and in the last few days someone, I presume stateside, has posted that version of the song, with a slide show of Charles Russell artwork on Youtube, in tribute to David.
I will be playing a few tunes on Dead Ends and Detours Saturday morning showcasing the talents of David Rea including a track from his Slewfoot album that was co-produced by the Dead’s Bob Weir and had members of The Grateful Dead and New Riders along for the ride.
David Rea was 66 years old, was born and raised in Akron, Ohio and had lived in Portland, Oregon for the past nine years.