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JAZZ REVIEW : Highs, Lows--Mostly Lows--at Tribute

August 13, 1993|LEONARD FEATHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Wednesday's bill at the Hollywood Bowl consisted of a tribute to the late Art Blakey followed by a tribute to the late Cannonball Adderley. Part of next Wednesday's show will be a tribute to the late Count Basie. Where would live jazz be without deceased jazzmen?

Blakey's Jazz Messengers were represented by a dozen of his alumni, plus Kenny Washington or Billy Higgins on drums. The opening set showed how thin the line was between the be-bop of the 1940s and Blakey's hard bop of the 1950s and '60s. Two of the three tunes were simply blues, the third was Charlie Parker's "Confirmation," with Donald Byrd's trumpet brisk and dominating.

After a solo appearance by McCoy Tyner (who never played with Blakey), trumpeter Freddie Hubbard led a sextet through sloppy readings of his waltz "Up Jumped Spring" and Curtis Fuller's "Arabia." Despite the presence of Fuller on trombone, Benny Golson on tenor and Cedar Walton on piano, this set bombed. How far short it fell was evident in the clean, crisp and confident work of the last, best and youngest group of Messengers, with the superb trumpet of Terence Blanchard, saxophonists Gary Bartz and Billy Pierce, and George Cables on piano.

For the Adderley set, Nat Adderley led a quintet with Vincent Herring, who's much like Nat's late brother, Cannonball. Too bad the set turned out to be a Nancy Wilson sandwich. There was only one instrumental tune (Nat's "Work Song") before the singer took over, and only one more after she got through.

George Duke, who played piano for the Adderleys in 1971, disappeared after one tune, yielding to Wilson's Lew Mathews, who in turn gave way to Mike Wolff (ex-Adderley, ex-Wilson, now leader of the Posse on Arsenio Hall's show).

Wilson sang the songs from a session she recorded with the Adderleys in 1961 ("Happy Talk," "Sleeping Bee," "Never Will I Marry"). Back then she was a promising young jazz singer, but somewhere along the way she went off the rails. Now her singing too often gives way to shouting. The low point was her version of "The Masquerade Is Over," performed at a funereal tempo.

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