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Jazz Review : Collette Still Blowing in a Westerly Direction

October 25, 1994|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — Buddy Collette, possessor of one of the richest careers in West Coast jazz, has never been more visible.

The 73-year-old saxophonist-clarinetist-flutist can be heard reminiscing about old pals Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Eric Dolphy on a new, two-CD set, "Buddy Collette: A Jazz Audio Biography," as well as speaking in a handful of television commercials and movie theater public-service announcements.

Collette has also been active on the playing circuit. A frequent performer for schools and charities, he joined the Gerald Wilson All Stars this weekend for the Jazz at Drew Festival, which included Joe Henderson and Cedar Walton on its bill. This coming weekend, he'll make a number of appearances during the four-day "Jazz West Coast" convention sponsored by KLON-FM.

Locally, Collette was at Kikuya Japanese Restaurant on Friday as a guest of guitarist Doug MacDonald's trio. It was an ideal setting to see the gentlemanly reed man, looking young and fit, standing just inches from the seats as he blew bop, blues and ballads to the those assembled in the intimate, mirror-lined room.

He played a compendium of West Coast styles, from the blues and bop of Central Avenue to the more decorous charms of film scores and the San Fernando Valley studio scene. With MacDonald, bassist Jack Prather and drummer Nick Martinis, Collette found able support for his time-traveling excursions.

Though this was an unrehearsed session, Collette and MacDonald are no strangers. They've worked infrequently together in the nightspots of Burbank and North Hollywood after meeting about 10 years ago in Hawaii. They last shared a stage in September at Legends of Hollywood in Studio City.

Collette opened the second set on flute with "Magali," a tune pulled from his 1989 Italian recording "Flute Talk," with fellow flutist and UC Irvine instructor James Newton. The dance-like, be-bop-inspired theme line was stated in unison by Collette and MacDonald before a pirouette-filled flute solo. The dignity of the instrument's tone and Collette's agile handling of its lines lent classical overtones to its '50s feel.

Then, Collette moved to clarinet for "Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise," wrestling with a cold instrument as he jumped his way through the familiar melody. MacDonald soloed first, matching hotfooted runs with two-note unisons and chordal strums. With his reed sufficiently warmed, the clarinetist then roamed the middle range of his instrument, before being joined by the guitar in a repeated figure that set up snappy play from Martinis.

The Central Avenue influence was most audible when Collette played alto sax, as he did on his own "Crystal." Though he initiated the piece at ballad tempo, Collette cut from the reserved time as he soloed, squirting out lines that sprinted. Then he tagged them with soulful, yet polished, honks of the kind he sounded behind vocalists back in the neighborhood's heyday.

Besides fitting in smoothly with MacDonald's trio, Collette occasionally provided accompaniment of his own, as he did with clarinet during MacDonald's improvising on "Softly." And when the band played "Perdido," they seemed of one mind, building strongly behind the alto's yakety-yak rant.

*

MacDonald's trio has plenty of character of its own, with the guitarist's chord-and-phrase packed solos teamed with barely audible, Charlie Christian-like pulse accompaniment.

Prather has a quirky way of hitting his notes just behind the beat, a tactic that seems to frame the sound of the lead instrument, while his bowed improvisations are melodic treats. Martinis is a smooth timekeeper behind his modestly sized drum kit, and he can get enough crack and rattle out of it to challenge the most ambitious solo.

In 1956, Collette put out an aptly titled album, "Man of Many Parts," that highlighted his composing skills as well as his versatility on flute, clarinet and a number of saxophones. That title, as the handful who saw him at Kikuya will attest, still describes historian, commercial actor and, oh yes, musician Buddy Collette today.

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