It's always hard for a jazz artist to have to perform with a relatively unfamiliar rhythm section. Even when players have a history with each other, it can be difficult to pull everything together--especially with minimal rehearsal time--for a one- or two-night gig.
Trumpeter Bobby Shew's opening set Friday night at the Jazz Spot in Los Feliz was a typical example. There was no faulting the skills of Shew or his rhythm section--pianist Theo Saunders, bassist Darek Oles and drummer Kendall Kay. But it was technical skills, rather than collective inspiration, that were the program's primary offering.
Shew has long been known as a marvelous technician, fully at home in almost any musical setting, as comfortable in a big band brass section as he is in front of a jazz quartet. And his soloing, in an attractive collection of tunes that ranged from Kenny Dorham's "Lotus Blossom" and Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama" to Johnny Mandel's "The Shadow of Your Smile" and Charlie Parker's "Anthropology," was briskly inventive.
His trumpet sound, however, perhaps because he was still adjusting to the room's sometimes quirky acoustics, was a bit edgy. Predictably, there was more tonal range in his work on the warmer-sounding fluegelhorn.
The rhythm team of Saunders, Oles and Kay never fully jelled into a well-integrated combination, especially in the tunes in which they were obliged to follow some rudimentary written arrangements. Saunders and Oles made the most of their solos, but Kay--apparently playing the room's resident drum kit--couldn't quite find the right sound level for the clattery sound of the kit's cymbals.