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JAZZ REVIEWS : Players Hit High Notes at Festival

May 23, 1994|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

FULLERTON — Contrast was the watchword for Saturday's edition of the second annual Orange County Art & Jazz Festival.

With a mix of college and high school bands sharing the stage with professional outfits playing mainstream, contemporary and Latin sounds, Day 2 of the three-day affair was a rewarding mix of forms, abilities and styles that spoke to the diversity of the art form called jazz.

A more scenic location for an outdoor festival is hard to imagine. Held on the grounds of the Fullerton Arboretum, the park-like setting gave the affair the feeling of a garden party. The open-air bandstand--framed by palms and backed by a lagoon, where turtles sunned themselves among the reeds and snowy egrets waded the shallow waters in search of fish--was bathed in sunlight as temperatures crept into the 80s. Attendees competed for space under a scattering of shade trees to protect themselves from the relentless sun.

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Adding to the heat was saxophonist Dan St. Marseille's quintet. Though it was only noon, his pianist Cecilia Coleman had already worked one gig at Disneyland and had two more to make after this appearance. Coleman gave her usual excellent performance, rich with the kind of sensitivity and swing that makes her one of Southern California's most rewarding keyboardists.

St. Marseille, just back from two weeks of playing clubs in Paris, pushed his tenor through a selection of neo-bop pieces in sparkling style. His own "Claxography," a piece written for jazz photographer William Claxton, found him especially agile. Trumpeter Steve Huffsteter, a member of Horace Silver's band, proved a worthy foil on trumpet, complementing St. Marseille on theme statements, adding Lee Morgan-like improvisations that wound along in narrative style.

Keeping the heat on later in the day, the festival's All Star Band brought together six respected musicians in an unrehearsed program that recalled the 1950s and '60s glory days of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.

Led by trumpeter Jeff Bunnell, the band, individually and collectively, made a good showing on numbers including Cedar Walton's "Ugetsu," Joe Henderson's "The Kicker" and Bobby Timmons' "Moanin'."

The front line of trombonist Alex Iles, Bunnell and saxophonist Bob Sheppard (who was seen last year with keyboardist Lyle Mays and on the Steely Dan tour) re-created the Messengers sound nicely while guitarist Higgins provided the pianoless combo its harmonic support. Isles stood out on Horace Silver's "Gregory Is Here," while both Sheppard and Bunnell took fine improvisations on Wayne Shorter's "This One Is for Albert."

Earlier in the day, Iles, a veteran of employment with Maynard Ferguson and Woody Herman, let the Fullerton College Big Band (which worked without its director) know what it's like to jam with pros. They traded licks on a handful of numbers including Dave Metzger's "Would You Like Fries With That?" After his own smoothly crafted solo, Iles exchanged lines with trombonist Francisco Torres, who managed to respond well to the veteran's play. Other standouts in the Fullerton ensemble included saxophonists Dave Shoop, Ernie Munoz and Joshua Fox (who served as de facto director), bassist Holly Ruzicka and pianist Dan Myers.

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Underscoring the event's diversity were two of the day's later acts. Trumpeter Steve Crum's Secret Circle Project mixed contemporary stylings (his own "Know It, I Wrote It") with standard tunes given modern twists (Gerry Mulligan's "Bernie's Tune"). Crum and saxophonist Dave Moody were bolstered by fine play from guitarist Michael Higgins, keyboardist Quinn Johnson, drummer Steve DiStanislao and bassist Chris Colangelo.

Crum's clever "Maple Road 332," inspired by reruns of "The Andy Griffith Show," had a Latin feel and hints of the situation comedy's whistled theme.

Violinist Susie Hansen's salsa-fired octet closed up with strong rhythms on numbers from such notables as Tito Puente and Smokey Robinson as well as Hansen's originals.

The band, which has a way of bringing a contemporary feel to its Latin-inspired numbers, had little luck coaxing people off their seats to dance, but not for lack of trying. With three percussionists pushing the beat, Hansen's set was more notable for its rhythmic strengths than the depth of its music.

The 19-piece Los Altos High School Big Band, directed by Don Gunderson, gave a competent performance that featured ambitious arrangements and a nice solo turn.

The band sounded lively on the upbeat Matt Harris tune "North Shore Morning," then moved on to an in-the-pocket treatment of "Groove Knot," featuring tenor saxophonist Vince Hizon. Alto saxophonist Daniel Silva was featured on a bouncy arrangement of "St. Louis Blues" that also showcased the muted trumpet sounds of Bryan Crain.

The day's only disappointment was the turnout, with fewer than 200 people surrounding the bandstand at any one time. Home-grown events such as this, especially one that includes ensembles from area schools and colleges, make a valuable contribution to the local scene and deserve support.

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