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O.C. JAZZ REVIEWS : Fresh Readings Do Dizzy and Woody Proud : A tribute to Gillespie in Costa Mesa features star-quality arrangements and stellar efforts by journeymen musicians.

September 25, 1993|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

COSTA MESA — Slide Hampton and his 13-piece JazzMasters orchestra presented a Dizzy Gillespie tribute at the Orange County Performing Arts Center that Diz himself would have appreciated. A good sampling of Gillespie's music was slicked up with new, often involved arrangements and played by a host of New York's best journeymen musicians, including several who had worked with Gillespie in his later years.

That there was a modicum of empty seats at Thursday's show may have been due to the fact that the event competed with the opening night of the Woody Herman tribute in Newport Beach.

But those who were there, including "Tonight Show" band mates Branford Marsalis and guitarist Kevin Eubanks, who came down from Burbank after their show's taping to see Hampton and company, were treated to the best night of jazz that OCPAC has hosted.

The band, featuring tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath, opened with an overture of Gillespie's music that included tastes of "Con Alma" and "Ow!" before jumping into an extended version of "Blue & Boogie." After the tune's up-tempo brass theme, Hampton began pulling various soloists from the section to give glimpses of their personalities. Trombonist Dennis Wilson used plunger mute for a particularly slippery ride, followed by saxophonist Antonio Hart's strong, talkin'-to-ya style. Next was Heath, whose long, sometimes mind-bending lines ended with cries and honks that maintained a quiet reserve, as if his sound were being muted by a pillow.

The evening's other featured soloist, Paquito D'Rivera, came out after intermission on "I Remember Diz." Playing clarinet on the bossa nova-paced number, D'Rivera performed with a fluid ease on lines that remained melodic, even when played at breakneck speeds. He led into his improvisation on "Birks' Works," this time on alto sax, with a quote from "It Ain't Necessarily So" then spun a long, circling phrase.

Hampton, who spent much of his time conducting, was featured on Gillespie's "I Waited for You," his sustained golden tone revealed as the introductory brass fanfare melted into silence.

Hampton is one of the most melodic of trombone players and has a way of gliding easily over the hardiest rhythmic foundation. His tone remains firm and deep, especially in the lower register.

All the band members were given solo time and all used it wisely. At one point, trumpeter Byron Stipling, who of the three trumpeters sounded most influenced by Gillespie, put on an impressive technical display that brought cheers from the crowd. Trumpeter Claudio Roditi's loose but intensive style contrasted nicely with trumpeter Mike Mossman's more considered approach. Saxophonist Hart brought a measure of aggression to his sound, while David Sanchez played with more care and repetitive rhythmic figures.

Trombonist Steve Turre was especially stirring, his improvisations turning on unexpected octave and dynamic leaps.

Pianist Danilo Perez, who has an excellent, self-titled recording out on the Novus label that features fellow Panamanian Ruben Blades, proved a worthy foil to the horn section in accompaniment, while using a strongly percussive approach in his solos.

Hampton's arrangements were also of star quality, each bringing modern reflections on Gillespie's numbers. Brash trumpet themes were pinned with saxophone accents and sliding nudges from the trombones.

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