One of the most startling sights in jazz--with its still minuscule number of female instrumentalists--is an all-female big band. Of the few that have managed to sustain any sort of longevity, Ann Patterson's Maiden Voyage, which appeared Sunday afternoon before a surprisingly large Mother's Day crowd at the Jazz Bakery, is one of the very best.
But it would be unfair to the dedicated players of the band to minimize their talents by identifying them as the biggest fish in a small pond. The inevitable tendency to focus on the relative rarity of an all-female ensemble, rather than on its inherent skills, overlooks the simple fact that Maiden Voyage is an impressive musical organization by almost any standard of evaluation.
Its Jazz Bakery performance was a warm-up for a Japanese tour, and the band sounded loose, relaxed and ready to go. Playing arrangements by, among others, Tom Kubis, Sammy Nestico and the band's longtime trombonist-singer, Betty O'Hara, Maiden Voyage displayed its most consistently appealing qualities--a solid ensemble sound and a dependable capacity to swing as an entire unit. Anne King's strong lead trumpet was a driving force, especially in the many up-tempo numbers, and Patterson's mellow alto gave the saxophone section its own, unique character.
O'Hara and trumpeter-fluegelhornist Stacy Rowles continue to be Maiden Voyage's reliable soloists. The veteran O'Hara (who reports that she has been a professional musician for 50 years) was splendid, singing and playing trombone in her arrangement of "Good Morning, Heartache." And Rowles transformed "My Foolish Heart" into a gorgeous showcase for her softly articulated fluegelhorn.
But there were other fine soloists as well. King, in addition to her lip-busting lead trumpet duties, contributed a number of thoughtful choruses. Scheila Gonzalez discovered some intriguing music in the oversized piping of her baritone saxophone. And pianist Linda Martinez, a college junior, revealed the rhythmic touch and harmonic imagination of a potential major talent.
After its return from Japan, Maiden Voyage can be heard in two performances on May 28 at 8 and 10 p.m. at Moonlight Tango in Sherman Oaks.