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1994: The Year in Review : Shows and Albums That Were Magic

December 31, 1994

This list of 1994's best jazz shows is admittedly incomplete, missing such talked-about events as the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra with Lew Tabackin concert at the Robert B. Moore Theatre and the Dewey Erney-Stephanie Haynes tributes to George Gershwin and Cole Porter at DeMario's. We were elsewhere those nights. And for each of these omissions, there probably are at least half a dozen other nights we missed when musicians made magic.

But the sheer amount of what was seen speaks well of the jazz scene in Orange County. Here's hoping the list lengthens in 1995.--Bill Kohlhaase

Favorite Concerts

\o7 In order of preference:\f7

1. Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Nov. 11: The pairing of the young trumpet sensation's quintet with the storytelling vocalist gave both stars a chance to slip out of their usual performance personas and give a more spontaneous presentation. Appearing together, both complemented the other's work, playing up the other's strengths while seldom resorting to one-upmanship. Seldom, that is, until Hargrove, Reeves and saxophonist Ron Blake stood toe-to-toe to match chops in an improvisational round-robin exchange on pianist Cyrus Chestnut's "Greens at the Chicken Shack." Hargrove was also stirring here in February, but bassist Charlie Haden's Quartet West fell flat on the same bill.

*

2. Walter Norris, Spaghettini, Aug. 28: Despite the background bar clatter, this was a chance to see one of the world's most respected pianists up close and personal. You may have recognized some of the tunes he played, but you certainly never heard them played quite like this. Norris' stream-of-consciousness improvisations, prodigious technique and playful sense of invention were effectively hypnotic.

*

3. Bopsicle, Orange Coast College, April 19: Any of Bopsicle's Orange County performances could have made this list. This one was chosen because it was held in a college classroom, a perfect place for bassist-composer-vocalist Jack Prather's tributes to jazz greats and styles. Prather's witty, attractive compositions invite listeners to explore the music, while working from a solid base in the jazz tradition. Vocalist Stephanie Haynes, certainly one of the most rewarding singers on the West Coast, makes everything she touches irresistibly engaging. Guitarist David Waggoner and trumpeter Ron Stout also made fine contributions.

*

4. Tito Puente, Anaheim Marriott hotel, Jan. 1: Sure, the show by the timbale-playing mambo king at the Performing Arts Center later in the year was a knockout. But this was a \o7 dance\f7 concert. Puente and his ensemble found the groove early and maintained it. And, come solo time, the ageless percussionist rattled the timbales as only he can.

*

5. Buddy Collette, Kikuya, Oct. 22: The veteran saxophonist, flutist and clarinetist who hung out with Charles Mingus when they were teen-agers, has one of the richest careers in West Coast jazz. Somehow, his playing continues to evolve, and this was an especially revealing night from the sax man, who was backed by guitarist Doug MacDonald's trio.

*

6. B Sharp Jazz Quartet, Jazz at the Hyatt, Aug. 26: B Sharp is the best of Los Angeles' young lion bands, and this performance only strengthened that reputation. Saxophonist Randall Willis and pianist Eliot Douglass were especially hot this night. The B's badly upstaged the night's headliner, Bobby Lyle, despite a typically rhythmic performance from the keyboardist.

*

7. Gene Harris Quartet, Robert B. Moore Theatre, Nov. 6: As always, the master of the funky keyboard delivered the goods here in strong style. No matter how somber the ballad, how upbeat the be-bop or how infectious the pop ditty, Harris injected strong shades of the blues into everything he played. The threesome that backed him--longtime associates guitarist Ron Eschete, bassist Luther Hughes and drummer Paul Humphrey--also had statements to make. A big-time toe-tapper.

*

8. Ross Tompkins, Kikuya, Nov. 18: Though the former Doc Severinsen Tonight Show Orchestra pianist fit glove-tight with guitarist Doug MacDonald's backing trio, he saved his most sophisticated stuff for unaccompanied spots, where he swirled through a variety of moods and rhythms.

*

9. Poncho Sanchez, Randell's, July 3: Again, any date from the \o7 conguero \f7 and his Latin jazz octet is worth seeing. Subs in the horn section, including trumpeter Jeff Brunnell, made this date even more interesting as the soloists tried to outdo one another over Sanchez's potent rhythm section.

*

10. Solsonics, Coach House, March 31: The 'sonics here demonstrated why their release "Jazz in the Present Tense" was the cream of the acid jazz crop. More than some tired riffing aired over samples from jazz-past, the group gave a tight, musically astute performance that mixed blues, rock reggae and rap into their jazzy hybrid.

*

\o7 Honorable mention:

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