Mike Madriaga 12:34 p.m., Dec. 18
Danny Weller Quintet does Ella at 98 Bottles
Weller led a superb ensemble through the music of vocal icon Ella Fitzgerald.
Young double-bass virtuoso Danny Weller is back in town for a week or so, and he somehow found time to organize a tribute concert to the great Ella Fitzgerald with a San Diego all-star band at 98 Bottles on April 28.
Pianist Mikan Zlatkovich's arrangement of the warhorse "Take The A Train," was first with an inventive suspended section that crystallized when the bassist launched into thick, propulsive time. Guitarist Peter Sprague's spidery fingers darted around the swing aesthetic from indirect angles while Zlatkovich tended to hit it dead center. The surprise of the evening was vocalist Rebecca Jade who's sure pitch, dynamic control and rhythmic acuity made me wonder how she has managed to be under my personal radar for so long.
Ms. Jade sings with that rare combination of aggressive power and wistful nuance coupled with distinct enunciation that allowed one to understand every lyric.
On "I Hear Music," which featured tricky unisons and insouciant forward motion including a forceful series of traded fours between the bassist and drummer Charles Weller, Jade lit up the stage, growling one moment and cooing the next.
Speaking of growling, on "Cry Me A River," over Weller's throbbing bass, Jade squeezed every ounce of drama from the lyrics with timbre manipulation and bluesy ornamentation before yielding to Sprague, who extended the drama with sly chordal extensions and pointed phraseology.
The ultimate highlight of the set occurred on a remarkable retelling of "Blue Skies," whereupon the band struck an ebullient swing bed from which Jade unwrapped a flawless scat solo transcribed from Fitzgerald herself, inspiring potent solos from Zlatkovich and Sprague and earning tumultuous applause from the house.
Zlatkovich's rich stride informed "They Can't Take That Away From Me," referencing Teddy Wilson, Red Garland and the blues, while Sprague toggled between clean, multinote strikes and strong melodic accents.
My only complaint about this performance centered on my inability to hear the bass. Weller is a strong player with a terrific sound, but for whatever reason, one had to strain to hear him, even from the front row.
That being said, this was a terrific concert, and Ms. Jade isn't going to slip underneath my radar again.
Photo by Bonnie Wright