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Jazz Review

A Disappointing End to USC Jazz Fest

April 23, 2001|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

USC's L.A. Jazz 2001 came to an unsettling close at Bovard Auditorium on Friday night with a performance titled "Cannonball Adderley Suite." After a series of concerts that began promisingly last Monday with alto saxophonist Charles McPherson re-creating material from the "Charlie Parker With Strings" album and continued through the week with scheduled appearances by, among others, Nnenna Freelon, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Richard Bona and the group Steps Ahead, the final event came across as a disorganized afterthought.

It seemed odd, first of all, in the choice of headliners: trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, singer Vanessa Rubin and pianist James Williams (replacing the original scheduled Sir Roland Hanna), but--in a tribute to one of jazz history's finest practitioners of the instrument--no alto saxophonist.

Let's assume the underlying premise was simply to focus upon music associated with Adderley, since no one could have appropriately filled his role. But even accepting the uncertain logic of that approach doesn't explain why the program so often seemed to have more to do with Bridgewater than with Adderley.

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His arrangements, for example, of numbers associated with the saxophonist--brother Nat Adderley's "Work Song" and Sam Jones' "Unit Seven" (the Adderley group's theme song)--were simply well-crafted big-band charts displaying little stylistic association with the originals. (In his introductions, Bridgewater kept making the odd assertion that it was important to bring the music into the present--a conclusion not apparent in either the style or the substance of his versions.)

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 24, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Concert date--The "Cannonball Adderley Suite" performance that closed USC's L.A. Jazz 2001 took place Saturday. The wrong day was cited in a review in Monday's Calendar.

Nor did several original Bridgewater pieces ostensibly inspired by Adderley--"Bird to Ball," "Cannon's Samba"--generate any particularly cogent associations; the latter number, in fact, was more reminiscent of Chuck Mangione than Adderley.

Rubin's participation, reflecting a brief collaboration between Nancy Wilson and Adderley in the early '60s, was marred by wobbly pitch and overly stylized interpretations. And Williams, sight reading the arrangements, did the best he could with his brief solo moments.

Amid these less-than-rewarding offerings from the headliners, the young players of the USC Thornton Jazz Orchestra (conducted by Shelly Berg) turned out to be the real stars, ably working their way through a long line of unfamiliar material. It was a shame that neither the program nor Bridgewater offered them the individual acknowledgment they so fully deserved.

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