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JAZZ REVIEW : Ann Patterson: A Triple Treat on Sax


HUNTINGTON BEACH — There's always been one problem with the Maiden Voyage big band. With 17 potential soloists all vying for time, there's never been enough chance to hear its leader, saxophonist Ann Patterson, improvise.

But that wasn't a problem Friday at Maxwell's as Patterson led a combo of Maiden Voyage members--trumpeter Stacy Rowles, pianist Kathy Rubbicco, bassist MaryAnn McSweeney and drummer Jeanette Wrate--in a program of standard and not-so-standard material that gave everyone in the band plenty of opportunity to show their stuff.

Patterson, who started her career in trumpeter Don Ellis' orchestra and has appeared with a host of big bands including her own, moved between tenor, alto and soprano sax as well as the flute during the performance and displayed an easy, intriguing way with all of them.

Her soprano feature during the second set, Keith Jarrett's "My Song," was a smooth, considered appeal to emotion that was full of personality. Her tenor work on Horace Silver's "Silver's Serenade" was gutsy and full of soul.

But it was her alto playing that was the most exciting, as she strung long, lyrical lines into well-crafted solos that moved and turned as easily as the plot of a good mystery novel.

Rowles was a fine, front-line foil to Patterson's dense approach, adding spare, burnished fluegelhorn tones to "There Is No Greater Love" and "Silver's Serenade." Her trumpet playing was more aggressive. On Thelonious Monk's "Straight, No Chaser," her sound fluttered and leaped across the scale after a strongly stated deliberate opening. And she applied a breath-filled vocal that contained some of Billie Holliday's inflection on "The Stars Come Out at Night."

The most impressive performance, however, was turned in by Rubbicco, a smart keyboardist with a devil-may-care attitude when it came to adding twists and surprises. Her unaccompanied introduction to "Straight, No Chaser" was peppered with off-kilter Monkisms before her accompanied improvisation moved through rolling phrases and splashy chords sprinkled with dissonance. At one point, she worked in some ragtime phrases before dwelling on a single note in the lower register.

Wrate expanded the drummer's role as timekeeper, adding cymbal accents and varied combinations of tom-toms and snare. She pulled a variety of sounds from her modest kit, playing the rims and sides of her drums and, in one ballad, softening her sound by playing with her hands. At one point, she leaned down to play her bass drum with a stick, rather than the pedal, creating deep, sharp tones.

Bassist McSweeney was featured on Charlie Haden's "Ellen David," and she used her long, solo introduction to convey the same kind of folk-tune melodiousness that Haden seems to favor, filled with sliding tones and double stops. Her work in support of the other musicians was solidly in the pocket, though there were times when her pitch seemed less than perfect.

The band got off to a bit of a rocky beginning with Rowles' false start on Oliver Nelson's "Stolen Moments," but the warm blend of fluegelhorn and Patterson's flute soon overshadowed the mistake.

George Duke's Brazilian-flavored "Yana Aminait" was given a tight, sophisticated reading which Patterson graced with flowing alto work. The group seemed especially playful during Duke Ellington's "Alabamy Night," with Wrate's jungle toms setting the pace for rollicking improvisations from Rubbicco and Patterson's tenor.

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