Wallace Roney kicked off his opening set at Catalina Bar & Grill on Tuesday night with a wildly virtuosic trumpet solo. Ranging with seeming effortlessness across the full scope of his instrument, he instantly revealed how far he has come since the early days of his career, when he was seen by many as a Miles Davis musical clone.
It's true that elements of Davis' style are still apparent in Roney's soloing, but for the most part he is very much his own person now, as he slowly but surely allows his improvisational vision to move into the foreground.
Devoting the entire set to extended performances of only a few numbers, and identifying none of them, Roney made no concessions to entertainment values, instead offering a moderate-sized crowd the opportunity to experience free-flowing, no-holds-barred contemporary jazz improvisation.
For the most part, that was a productive decision. Roney was joined in the front line by veteran alto and soprano saxophonist Gary Bartz, whose plaintive, emotion-filled lines provided a warm counter to Roney's soaring flights of fancy. And Patrice Rushen, on keyboards, and Buster Williams, on bass, brought structure and cohesion to what might otherwise have emerged as rambling, uncentered numbers.
Roney has worked frequently with Lenny White, so he presumably was getting what he wanted from the drummer's incessant playing, despite its tendency to submerge everything in waves of percussion and cymbals.
But, even if one grants that the '80s Miles Davis style--the foundation of the set's lengthy pieces--calls for a roiling, turbulent undercurrent of rhythm, White's playing seemed oversized for the room's acoustics. Solos by Williams and Bartz, in particular, were often overwhelmed by the sheer torrent of decibels pouring out of the drums.
What was missing from the set, in fact, was a stronger sense of overall focus from Roney, a feeling that the evening's musical viewpoint, and not simply his individual playing, was the reflection of his creative perspective. Clearly finding his own path as an improvising jazz artist, Roney now needs to discover his way as a leader.
The Wallace Roney Quintet at Catalina Bar & Grill, 1640 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood. Tonight at 8:30 and 10:30; Friday at 10:30 p.m.; Sunday at 9:30 p.m.; tonight, $17 cover; Friday at 8:30 p.m. and Sunday at 7:30 p.m., $20 cover; Saturday at 8:30 p.m., $22 cover; Saturday at 10:30 p.m., $18 cover. Two-drink minimum. (323) 466-2210.