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This summit meeting has immediate results

December 04, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

The Jazz Summit performance at Catalina Bar & Grill on Sunday was much more than a gathering of first-rate talent.

Yes, it was a rare treat to hear trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianists Gerald Clayton and Tamir Hendelman, guitarist Bruce Forman and singer Roberta Gambarini, among others, on the same stage, in the same program. But the capacity crowd that turned out for a packaged event that included cocktails and dinner in addition to the music was there for more altruistic reasons, as well.

The program, sponsored by the California Jazz Foundation, was a fundraiser to support the organization's efforts to assist jazz musicians in medical or life crises. And a good part of the evening's pleasures flowed from the knowledge that the music performed by a cross-generational collection of hale and hearty jazz artists was generating help for players trapped in the dire straits that too often are endemic to a jazz musician's life.

Forman, backed by Clayton, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Joe La Barbera, began the performance with a briskly swinging set of standards. Spreading the solo opportunities freely, he handed the Jerome Kern classic, "Yesterdays," to Berghofer, who slyly used his instrument's dark tones to find the undercurrent beneath the song's soaring lyricism. Each of the players had a crack at maneuvering through a high-speed "Cherokee," and Forman adeptly displayed his Wes Montgomery chops in a grooving set of octave-driven blues choruses.

If Forman's set was the kick-back-and-dig-it opener, Gambarini's was the emotional heart of the evening. Performing for the first time in two months after being sidelined by a medical emergency, she simmered with creative enthusiasm, stretching out musically in a collection of tunes running the gamut of the Great American Songbook. "I Hadn't Anyone Till You," "Lover Come Back to Me" and "Centerpiece" afforded opportunities to showcase Gambarini's fleet improvisational skills; the ancient "Poor Butterfly" came to life with the rarely heard verse; "You Must Believe in Spring" reached deeply into the song's lyrical story; and "Lush Life" was delivered with stunning emotional intimacy.

Gambarini, who manages to incorporate qualities of Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and Carmen McRae in her singing, has a distracting tendency -- exacerbated by holding the microphone too close to her lips at the start of each phrase -- to swoop up into notes. But when she's good -- as she was throughout most of her set -- she's very good, indeed.

Closing the program in the headliner position, Hargrove was, as he usually is, hard-driving and energetic, his intensity matched by Watts' fast-fingered, horn-scouring excursions and the big, ebullient tenor-saxophone sounds of Kamasi Washington. Hargrove was at his best, however, when he switched gears (and moved to fluegelhorn) for a gorgeous, evening-capping rendering of "Speak Low."

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