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Jazz Review : Four Women Only: Talented Quartet Trying Too Hard

August 27, 1994|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Was there ever a female jazz musician who did not have to deal, at some point, with the comment, "Yeah, she plays pretty good--for a girl"?

Even in these allegedly enlightened, politically corrected '90s the still male-oriented jazz world tends to view groups such as Four Women Only, which performed at the Jazz Bakery on Thursday night, not simply as jazz players, but as female jazz players.

The result, too often, can be a counterproductive, overcompensating reaction on the part of obviously gifted artists. Flutist Holly Hofmann, for example, who led the group, has the technical skills, the harmonic/rhythmic imagination and the improvisational abilities required for first-rate jazz playing. Her rich, broad, classically based sound is not often heard in jazz flutists. Yet it did not interfere with a bracing sense of swing on tunes such as "I Hear a Rhapsody," and provided a gorgeous tonal palette for a sensitive reading of Billy Strayhorn's "Blood Count."

But Hofmann, like bassist Nedra Wheeler, pianist Cecilia Coleman and drummer Janette Wrate, was far too busy. Almost without exception (although a bit less so in Wrate's case) each musician's soloing tended to fill every nook and cranny, allowing little room for the pacing and contrast and airiness that is intrinsic in first-rate jazz.

Was the improvisational overkill a consequence of trying to prove too much, of trying to get past the still too-pervasive label of playing "good for a girl"? It's hard to say. But it was an effort that none of the musicians needed to make. Hofmann, Coleman, Wheeler and Wrate demonstrated, even in their busiest technical moments, that they have the skill and the talent to play jazz their own way, without concern for gender-driven stereotypes. What they need to do now is simply relax, and let the music happen.

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