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JAZZ REVIEW : Playboy Gets Down to Business

June 20, 1989|ZAN STEWART

As Playboy Jazz Festival associate producer Darlene Chan so prophetically put it near the beginning of Sunday's program at the Hollywood Bowl, "Yesterday was 'Party Day,' today is 'Jazz Day.' "

She was right. Whether they were wiped out from too much fun on Saturday, or simply inspired by the designed-for-listening lineup, the sold-out cast of 17,901 fans kept pretty much to their seats, seeming to enjoy the efforts produced by such mainstream-oriented artists as Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, Dave Brubeck and Diane Schuur.

This is not to say people didn't get up and shake a tail feather at least a few times; they did, in their seats and in the aisles, to rollicking sounds put forth by Spyro Gyra, the concert's only jazz/fusion band, to George Benson's "On Broadway" and to Schuur's "Deedle's Blues."

But it was generally a day where the music came first, and there was a wealth of top-quality sounds. After an opening set by the Mel Brown sextet, winners of the Hennessy Cognac Jazz Search, reedman Michael Brecker greeted the still-arriving crowd with a brace of steaming contemporary jazz originals.

These included "Original Rays," where the leader, who mostly played tenor saxophone, plugged in his EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument) and sounded alternately like Jimi Hendrix, the Woody Herman sax section and an orchestra playing an abstract work by Gyorgy Ligeti. He also delivered a warm "Skylark," where keen linear extemporizations from pianist Joey Calderazzo stood out.

Blakey led his youthful Jazz Messengers through such now familiar territory as Mulgrew Miller's "Second Thoughts" and Bobby Timmons' "Moanin.' " And while the septet's front line acquitted itself admirably, particularly trumpeter Brian Lynch--whose bristling statements were full of little climaxes, these capped by sparkling high notes--it was pianist Benny Green who quietly stole the show. His subtle use of dancing parallel octaves and his thickly textured chordal solos, the latter recalling the wondrous Wynton Kelly as well as Timmons, were absolute delights.

A trimmed-down Schuur--who, when prodded by emcee Bill Cosby, announced happily that she'd lost 52 pounds and then stood up to prove it--was in fine fettle. She was emotional yet controlled on the ballad "Teach Me Tonight" and roaring on "Hard Drivin' Mama," a foot-stomping blues. Keyboardist Rob Mullins, who soloed with savvy on synthesizer, was a plus.

Brubeck, who underwent open-heart surgery in February, seemed more relaxed than in the past, offering his version of modern stride on "Theme for June," "I Hear a Rhapsody" and the requisite "Take Five." Spyro Gyra, whose rock-beat demeanor didn't go with

the rest of the bill, still pleased the crowd with such tunes as "Swing Street" and "Daddy's Got a New Girl Now." The vocal sextet Take 6 found it hard to follow Spyro Gyra, as their modern gospel-based numbers, outfitted with glowing harmonies and sung with abandon, were not what the crowd wanted.

George Benson, backed by Tyner's trio, was. After two tunes from Tyner, including "Yesterdays," replete with rich, throbbing chords and beaming single-note lines, Benson came up. He began with "Cousin Mary," taken so fast the guitarist seemed to be struggling, then segued into a slower, funky blues, where his trademark gleaming sound stood out in all its splendor. Later, Benson sang "This Masquerade" and "On Broadway," and the crowd went wild. The day came to a close with a set by Illinois Jacquet's big band, reviewed here recently.

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