It's Jazz at the Bowl time again, and to a great extent that phrase has become synonymous with Mel Torme. On Wednesday evening, the jazz world's pre-eminent singer-composer-drummer made his 15th consecutive summer appearance at the Hollywood Bowl.
Since this was basically the same all-Ellington show presented last month at Carnegie Hall and reviewed in these pages, it need only be added that Torme again was in peak form before the crowd of almost 13,000, perhaps even a bit stronger this time thanks to the flawless support of the Bill Berry L.A. Big Band.
The guest role played in New York by Gerry Mulligan was taken over by Bob Cooper on tenor sax, giving Berry a chance to stretch out after being virtually wasted in the opening set by the Lighthouse All-Stars.
Berry's set also was Ellington-directed, opening with "Harlem Airshaft," one of the Duke's most concisely evocatively orchestral works. "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" became a blues vehicle for, among others, trombonist Buster Cooper and trumpeter Rolf Ericson, both Ellington alumni.
Billy Strayhorn, who is becoming more and more a sine qua non of every Ellington performance, was touchingly represented in "Blood Count," his final composition, best known through Stan Getz's poignant performances in his last years, and splendidly handled here on alto saxophone by Jackie Kelso.
For the fourth tune, Berry announced "Rockin' in Rhythm," which he said would be introduced "by the drummer." As the audience slowly realized, the drummer was none other than Torme, who drove the band as no other vocalist-turned-percussionist could.
Take 6, the gospel group that just earned another gold record, offered a short set in which could be detected signs that commercial success has effected a few changes in their performance attitude.
There were a few too many comic gestures and a little more self-conscious showmanship than was seen in their act when they made their lightning ride to prominence a couple of years ago.
Nevertheless, such works as "Get Away Jordan" and "Spread Love" are always a joy, and the a cappella blend is like nothing else on the contemporary scene. There was a strange incongruity, when they inserted "The Star-Spangled Banner" in mid-set, to their incorporation of such exquisite harmonic ideas to correspond with lyrical lines about bombs bursting in air.
The Lighthouse All-Stars played an opening set bogged down by tired arrangements. Despite the presence of Bud Shank on alto sax, Conte Candoli on trumpet and others whose backgrounds are long and distinguished, the group seldom came alive.