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Blue Note All Stars Show Spark as Group


All-star bands, like dream teams, often reflect individual agendas rather than collective spirit. Not so the Blue Note All Star Band, a sextet of New York-based, mostly young jazz musicians who played the John Anson Ford Amphitheater Saturday.

Led by the frontline of tenor saxophonist Javon Jackson, alto foil Greg Osby and trumpeter Tim Hagans, the group radiated with singular purpose. The short, extremely attractive program of originals rotated between traditional and not-so-traditional rhythmic forms often in the course of the same number.

Despite the collaborative spirit, each tune was firmly stamped with individual character. Trumpeter Hagans' "Twistin' Out" was typical with its varied blend of trumpet, alto and tenor, sometimes played in counterpoint. Altoist Osby soloed with needling lines and pin-prick exclamations. In sharp contrast, Hagans strung together longer phrases that took on a robotic character as pianist Kevin Hays developed a striking, repetitive riff behind him. Jackson worked in a more flowing style, with occasional understated cries and overtones from his tenor suggesting the play of Joe Henderson.

An equal with the frontline, pianist Hays supplied generous support in sometimes offbeat ways while improvising with an insistent, sometimes nervous feel. Though less demonstrative than his Blue Note label-mate Jacky Terrasson, Hays is no less playful and witty. At times, his sound, with its ever-changing attack of rhythmic figures, recalled a young Herbie Hancock.

Drummer Bill Stewart was crisp and thoughtful when soloing on his is own tune, "Think Before You Think." Bassist Essiet Essiet contributed the evening's most rhythmic groove on "Splash," then pumped it up with stout, improvised story line.

The All Stars came together so well that one was left wishing they'd found more time for interplay. Maybe an extended club date here in Southern California would give this important, decidedly modern group a chance to do just that.

Tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts, always known as an impassioned player, was especially sensitive as he opened the evening in a drummer-less setting with guitar and piano. Vocalist Carmen Lundy's confident, yet fanciful blues delivery garnered the night's biggest receptions.

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