Sunday, October 05, 2008

Concert Review: Bobby Watson with Horizon - Berney Theatre, Winnipeg, MB, 10/04/2008

This is the first concert of the season in the Izzy Asper Jazz Performance Series in the 180 seat Berney Theatre at the Asper Campus in Winnipeg, Canada. Each concert is also repeated on Sunday afternoon and evening, such is the demand for tickets. And, as in previous years, the entire series is sold out.

The quintet Horizon is comprised of straight-ahead players who share the heritage of hard bop music and some of them have played with the renown Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

The first set was comprised of three long pieces, the first of which started off slow and laid back with ''Quiet As Its Kept," the title track of his 1999 album. The second tune, "For Milt," named after Bobby Watson's son who is a chef, was a dazzling display of virtuosity from all five members, each of who is a group leader in his own right. The final opening set number was "Duke Ellington's Evergreen."

Bassist Essiet Okon Essiet (52) received a lot of applause for his unconventional slapping of the body of his upright acoustic bass, not to mention his dexterous plucking. Bobby Watson, also a renown music professor, was the evening's gracious host and sax player. His playing was smooth and his solos were played with power while appearing to have left some gas in the tank. Pianist Edward Simon (39), is also a jazz educator and had two CDs for sale at the show, which I also purchased. Unicity (2006) features drummer Brian Blade and one of the biggest names in contemporary jazz, bassist John Patitucci while La Bakina (1998) has material he heard as a child in Venezuela.

Trumpeter Terell Stafford (41) performed a variety of styles, including using a plunger and mute. He was particularly engaging during his faster solos, in which he bent over backwards as he blasted out notes in rapid fire succession, fingers pumping and racing up and down his horn. He put so much effort into his performance that I wouldn't have been surprised if he had keeled over from a heart attack. Talk about intensity. I picked up his CDs New Beginnings (2003) and Taking Chances (2007.)

When Watson introduced the band, he mentioned that the group Horizon would not be possible without drummer Victor Lewis (58.) Lewis was flawless whether performing ballads, barnstormers, or anything in between. I was surprised by how distinctive a style he has. You would think that it would be difficult to stand out from other jazz drummers, and while that might be the case, Lewis didn't seem like any number of jazz drummers who I have seen over the years. Like New Orleans drummer extraordinaire, Herlin Riley (52), Lewis has his own way around the drum kit. I'll be on the lookout for some of his CDs.

The group played for about a hour again, and then returned for an encore. Even without an opening act — I was expecting the U of M music students — it was a very worthwhile evening for jazz fans.


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