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JAZZ REVIEW

A Major Voice With Minor Problems

May 02, 1996|DON HECKMAN

Trumpeter Wallace Roney's opening night performance at the Jazz Bakery on Tuesday underscored some of the problems confronting jazz in the mid-'90s. Namely, attendance, promotion and sound.

Although Roney is, by almost any standard, one of the three or four major voices on his instrument, he drew a sparse crowd, unsupported by any noticeable promotional effort.

And his apparent unfamiliarity with the venue's tricky acoustics resulted in sound that can most charitably be described as jarring. For no obvious reason, Roney chose to place the grand piano facing the audience--that is, with pianist Carlos McKinney looking out toward the seats. Bassist Clarence Seay stood in the crook of the piano, but turned toward the side of the room, and drummer Eric Allen was placed in the center.

If the clustered positioning was intended to create a better listening environment for the players, it didn't manifest itself in the music that reached the audience. Nor did Roney help matters by choosing a program--largely drawn from his new Warner Bros. album, "The Wallace Roney Quintet"--dominated by rapid-paced up-tempos and fiery, many-noted solos.

On the upside, Roney seems to be shaking off the burden of the Miles Davis comparisons that have plagued him, especially since his participation in the Miles Davis tribute project a few years ago with former members of the late trumpeter's band. Roney's expressive tone and probing imagination--always present, even in his most Davis-oriented soloing--is now even more front-and-center. With a technique that allows him to articulate the most rigorously complicated ideas and a virtuosic control of the instrument, nearly everything he plays has absorbing qualities. But on this night, at least, his ideas were too often blurred by the audio and diminished by an absence of space and contemplation.

* The Wallace Roney Quintet at the Jazz Bakery through Sunday. 3233 Helms Ave. (310) 271-9039. $17 admission tonight and for Sunday's matinee; $20 for all other performances. Roney performs at 8:30 p.m. tonight through Saturday, and at 8 p.m. on Sunday. There is a late performance at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday and a matinee at 4 p.m. on Sunday.

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