5th Rochester International Jazz Festival, Part 3-3
Gray Mayfield / Mark Whitfield Quartet
Gray Mayfield-alto sax; Mark Whitfield-guitar; Ryan Kotler-bass; Ted Poor-drums.
The Festival Tent is probably the least attractive venue of the festival. It's a huge tent erected in a parking lot across the street from the Eastman Theatre. The massive size of the venue and the food stalls makes it seem like it's an invitation to talk so if one is going to hear the music and not merely socialize, one is advised to sit up front close to the band. Unfortunately I was late to the venue and had to sit in the back row with people behind me who seemed to be annoyed with all that noise that was going on up front. (Sigh.)
Gray Mayfield is a saxophonist who's been based in Rochester for the past few years. (His wife is a dancer with Garth Fagan dance.) He's young and studied with Ellis Marsalis in New Orleans back in the early 90s. He's a fiery player and his style, an exuberant mixture of Cannonball and Coltrane, makes him an attractive proposition. Whitfield is a well-known guitarist whose recordings have never done him justice. Mayfield and Whitfield have been long-time friends. When Mayfield landed this gig for the festival, the original frontline partner was supposed to be trombonist Delfayo Marsalis, who couldn't make it. In the end, this turned out to be a good thing because Mayfield and Whitfield both seemed inspired to be playing together and played off each other beautifully. Their program turned to modern jazz standards: Monk's "Straight, No Chaser and "Trinkle Tinkle , Coltrane's "Spiral . Mayfield's solos were gleaming, sparkling statements that filled the festival tent, blocking out the chattering yahoos. But Whitfield was the real surprise. His solos seemed dense and edgy. Sure there was some Wes Montgomery in there and sure there was some George Benson in there but his solos took off on unexpected tangents with weird harsh dissonant chords, abstract linear detours and techniques one doesn't normally associate with Whitfield. Another surprise of this set was the presence of drummer Ted Poor (Respect Sextet, Cuong Vu Trio). He and Mayfield have a local history together. His open drumming and unerring sense of drive and swing helped propel this band through an exciting set. Ryan Kotler, an excellent local bassist rounded out the quartet and he worked hand-in-glove with Poor to drive this band. This was an exciting group and they played a great set. It was a good mix of players. It seemed the format liberated Whitfield to play beyond anything he's ever put on disc. It would be great if someone would record this quartet live. It would present Whitfield in a way he had never been showcased before. And it would give such a superb player as Mayfield an opportunity to gain some much-deserved wider exposure.
Stephen Gauci Trio
Stephen Gauci-tenor sax; Michael Bisio-bass; Jay Rosen-drums.
It's to the festival's credit that they book little-known names like saxophonist Stephen Gauci. Gauci is an excellent player based in NYC, who has been garnering a reputation as an adventurous tenor player with something to say. Gauci had played the Bop Shop about a year ago and had impressed those who attended. The Little Theatre was about 60% full for this show, small by the festival's standards. But those who attended were treated to a 70 minute saxophone trio blowout that had the appreciative audience talking about it the next day. Gauci's trio came charging out of the gate. After an introductory bass solo, Gauci ripped into the first theme, a fast burner that ignited from the git-go. This trio has great rapport and as Gauci dissected the theme into jagged shards, he was supported by Bisio's bass rumbles and Rosen's incisive kicks. Gauci has been compared to several players (from Archie Shepp to Stan Getz) and all of these comparisons sell him short. If he's to be compared to someone it might be Sonny Rollins during his late 1950s trio phase. Like Rollins, his playing has a pleasing swagger and bluster that moves authoritatively through the material. But Gauci doesn't sound like Rollins. His saxophone sound is his own and it takes into account many of the players who have succeeded Rollins. He has a big, full sound, that can occasionally get gruff and aggressive but there's always an underlying warmth present. It's a sound that mixes the darker and light hues into an expressive palette. Although he can easily take his instrument into the extended range, he uses this technique sparingly and effectively. Frequently he seems content to mine the tunes for their harmonic content finding secret avenues hidden away in the material. All of this was to the fore on the five pieces he played this night. Supported by the rhythm section that backed him on "Long Night Waiting , the three musicians delivered a solid set of sterling saxophone trio music.