10:43 a.m., Sept. 22
Tenor madness at 98 Bottles
Ian Tordella led a tenor-heavy ensemble and a crack rhythm section at the Little Italy venue.
Local saxophone wizard Ian Tordella delivered a mostly cerebral set on May 24 at 98 Bottles, billed as The Twin Tenors, Vol. III, featuring LA saxophonist Joe Berry along with pianist Kamau Kenyatta, bassist Rob Thorsen and drummer Charles Weller.
Kenyatta opened the Tad Dameron classic, "On A Misty Night," with a tasteful and spare rumination, setting the stage for Tordella and Berry, who embellished the melody with purrs and coos before Tordella took off, toggling between the tough and tender, puffing curlicues into the upper register. After Kenyatta's patient mix of serpentine strikes and choice harmonies, Berry entered, with rhythmically irregular phrases and a similar ease of accessing the altissimo regions of his horn.
A Berry original, "Jessie," found the composer breathing a burnished hush with light vibrato and Kenyatta extrapolating on the last few notes of the solo to begin a spot that shifted between lyric grace, forward motion and blues connectivity.
Usually, these dual-tenor events capitalize on the differences of the individual players, and in this respect, I felt that the styles of Tordella and Berry were too similar to spark each other into a higher kinetic dimension.
This sameness in approach was somewhat mitigated by the inclusion of Brian Clancy on the Lee Morgan blues, "Speedball," where Clancy's more direct bebop attack seemed to crank the aggression up a notch. However, it was Thorsen who stole the show with a gloriously out solo that made him sound like William Parker sitting in with Zoot Simms and Al Cohn. When the three tenors returned, Weller alone accompanied them, ratcheting the excitement quotient considerably with an Elvin Jones intensity, leading to a short and explosive drum solo.
I missed the second set which added tenor man, Chris Burgess to the mix. Next time.
Photo by Darci Fontenot