Like Miles, Mingus and Monk, drummer Michael Carvin is a leader who knows when and how to mix veteran musicians with emerging jazz stars.
Such a tasteful mixture of the tried and true with a fresh brood was fully evident recently at Dizzy’s Club in midtown Manhattan. Carvin, a teacher and player extraordinaire, surrounded himself on this evening with promising list of protégés, including tenor saxophonist Keith Loftis, a fellow Texan; bassist Jansen Cinco, and a more seasoned pianist Anthony Wonsey.
Loftis quickly established his budding prowess on the evergreen “I’ll Remember April,” and there were sweet reminders of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter, particularly during a nicely paced but inventive solo. He possesses a lovely tone that seemed to be intimately in touch with the song’s beautiful, lament-like lyrics.
This opening tune also forecast Cinco’s ability to combine timbre and tempo on his brief interlude. It was just a prelude to a longer, more intricate solo on “Softly, As In A Morning Sunrise.” Wonsey is an extremely versatile and imaginative stylist at the keyboard, and that practiced, expressiveness was on display throughout the evening and he previewed it most eloquently following Loftis’s flight.
There were two more numbers before another veteran Sonny Fortune was brought to the stand, and he was greeted with warm applause and he immediately joined Loftis in what appeared at first to be a discordant treatment of “Softly…,” which was only for a moment softly rendered. Fortune, on alto saxophone, took the first solo and he has lost none of the vigor or creativity that has marked his fabulous career. There were long, luscious lines of melody as he attacked each chorus with a different color and sonority.
With a more subdued approach, Loftis took his turn, matching and answering some of Fortune’s references, but ever mindful of Wonsey and Cinco’s guidance.
The audience appeared to be waiting for Carvin to get beyond just providing the unobtrusive texture and background to his ensemble, and that came on the group’s rendition of “In Walked Bud,” and Carvin unleashed a fusillade of backbeats, many of the shuffles and rips across the skins reminiscent of his days with Motown. There were moments when he teased the drums, carrying on an inner conversation from tom-tom to bass to snare drums.
Having set the groundwork for the Monk composition, Carvin cued Fortune and Loftis and each further investigated the tune’s tricky contours, and it was especially rewarding to witness at least a portion of the circular breathing technique that allows Fortune to extend notes without losing either meter or tonality.
Since neither Fortune nor Wonsey is a regular member of Carvin’s ensemble, it’s a testament to the leader’s skillful understanding of his musicians’ potential, an intelligent comprehension of improvisation, and when and where to enter a cluster of sound with his own unique tactics at the battery.
If this isn’t the real deal, then we await that coming with great anticipation as Carvin and his charges make it to the studio or the next stage.