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JAZZ REVIEW

Keith Fiddmont and friends are keeping the music alive

Oliver Nelson's tunes are given a welcome hearing by a first-rate assemblage of players.

June 08, 2005|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Oliver Nelson, a fine saxophonist and an even better composer-arranger, was only 43 when he died of a heart attack in 1975, yet the St. Louis musician had firmly established himself as one of the important compositional voices of the period in albums such as "The Blues and the Abstract Truth," "Full Nelson" and "Afro/American Sketches."

Nelson's music -- which has seemed lately in danger of slipping off the jazz view screen -- was given a welcome return to visibility Monday night at Catalina Bar & Grill.

The concert, led by woodwind player Keith Fiddmont, involved a first-rate assemblage of Southland players. The program included fewer than a dozen Nelson compositions and arrangements, but enough to illustrate his extraordinary inventiveness.

The high quality and diversity of pieces such as "Stolen Moments," "Nocturne," "Afrique" and "Hoe Down" was even more impressive in view of the fact that most of Nelson's jazz works were written in the '60s, before the final years he largely devoted to composing for television and films.

Fiddmont's ensemble played the Nelson charts with accuracy and propulsive drive, a considerable accomplishment for music that was filled with thorny rhythms and dense, moving harmonies.

Soloing was universally well done: trumpeter Brian Swartz's angular lines on "Blues and the Abstract Truth"; tenor saxophonist Charles Owens and trombonist George Bohannon's witty, blues-drenched excursions through "Full Nelson"; alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton's characteristically slippery soloing (and lead alto playing) on "Stolen Moments" and "Nocturne"; brief but impressive contributions from trumpeter Clay Jenkins, trombonist Ira Nepus, pianist Jon Mayer, bassist Nedra Wheeler, saxophonists Fred Jackson and Ron Brown; and Fiddmont's own saxophone and flute work.

But the star of this engaging evening was Nelson's music -- fully deserving of many more nights (and years) in the jazz spotlights.

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