by Bill Barton

The Seattle Jazz Showcase series got off to an auspicious start Monday night, October 15, at the Seattle Drum School’s LAB Performance Space.

Hadley Caliman Quintet:
Hadley Caliman – tenor saxophone
Thomas Marriott – trumpet & flugelhorn
Darius Willrich – piano
Phil Sparks – bass
Matt Jorgensen – drums

Hadley Caliman’s quintet opened with “Morning Cycle,” a Thomas Marriott original that has a funky hard bop edge reminiscent of the heyday of Horace Silver and his classic Blue Note groups. Darius Willrich’s witty and swinging piano solo had some oblique allusions to what sounded like Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”

Caliman’s original, “Joe Joe Dancer Bossa,” was – as one might expect – a bossa nova. Caliman’s tenor saxophone tone is full, deep, rich and emotionally resonant. He’s a veritable Hemingway of the tenor with nary an extra comma or adjective: a knack for playing only the notes that matter. There was a light and airy feel to his solo work here without sacrificing the heft and gravitas endemic to the tenor’s sound. Phil Sparks took a wonderful bass solo and the blend between Caliman’s tenor and Marriott’s flugelhorn was exemplary, sweet without being saccharine.

Caliman cited the standard “Invitation” by Bronislaw Kaper as “one of my favorites.” His love of the tune definitely came through in the immediacy and directness of the performance. The structure, moving back and forth between a relaxed medium swing and a Latin feel, lends itself to creative improvisation. It’s hard to dispense clichés on this tune. There was a delightful contrast between Caliman’s laconic, spare, measured solo and Marriott’s more verbose approach on flügel.

There were lots more highlights, including Caliman’s remarkable control of the upper register and some tasty muted trumpet from Marriott in balladic mode.

And Joe Henderson’s “If” got a smokin’ interpretation that was a pleasant change from the solo order, with trumpet taking the first turn in the spotlight (the others had tenor, brass, piano and bass solos in that order.) Caliman is a master at building drive and intensity without ever appearing strained or busy. Everyone got a chance to shine on this high energy romp, including drummer Matt Jorgensen who took a colorful, nicely paced solo.

The Marc Seales Group:
Marc Seales – piano, electric piano & synthesizer
Thomas Marriott – trumpet & flugelhorn
Evan Florey Barnes – bass
D’Vonne Lewis – drums
Lary Barilleau – percussion

It’s common for musicians to hit the stage running by beginning with an up tempo piece to get both themselves and the audience warmed up. Not so with this stunningly nuanced set from the Seales group. There was a long, introspective, deeply spiritual solo piano introduction that wended its way through a panoply of elegant and subtle variations on two traditional spirituals – “Bye and Bye” and “Nobody Knows the Troubles I’ve Seen” – before morphing seamlessly into Seales’ composition “Soft.” The enormous dynamic range of this segment was echoed throughout the set. This group plays with a wide palette of colors, textures and approaches, never settling into one-dimensional formulas. Marriott’s lustrous flugelhorn timbre was particularly impressive in his interactions with Seales on this piece.

Seales introduced the next segment as parts of a Paris Suite. The first portion, titled “Pont Marie,” was seriously funky. Its thick, greasy electric piano driven groove was potently lifted by Lewis’s fatback drums and percolating congas. The dynamics came way down for a thoughtful trumpet solo. A brief synthesizer interlude then piano built the level back up gradually and when the electric piano kicked back into the funk groove things really began to levitate. Barnes took an energetic and imaginative bass solo and there were some smiles-laden musical dialogues between Seales and Lewis that brought smiles to the audience as well. Jabbing trumpet interjections led to a delightful stretch where Seales played synth with his right hand and piano with his left, spurred on by Lewis nailing the funk. It was a joyous and uplifting performance.

“Boulevard Ste. Michelle” began as a ballad and slowly but surely developed a samba feel, with – I believe – pandeiro laying down an understated backdrop. There was a lovely bass solo, luxuriant electric piano textures and very nice trumpet at the end.

“Traocadero” was a feature for Larry Barilleau on congas who really tore it up. The structure and melody of the tune never left one’s consciousness during his unaccompanied solo and the pulse kept right on pulsing. He brought the dynamic level down for a segue to solo acoustic piano. This led to a Joe Zawinul tribute featuring two of the recently departed Austrian jazz giant’s most memorable compositions, woven together in a unique and colorful way. Organ chords on the synthesizer set up a lyrical and pensive trumpet spot by Marriott “In A Silent Way” before things took a u-turn to drop us off in “Birdland.” Zawinul’s days in the soulful Cannonball Adderley group were influences in Seales’ solo, as well as the electric and eclectic Zawinul of Weather Report. A few major bright moments came by way of Marriott’s potent trumpet solo, which seemed to channel Freddie Hubbard in an energetic and inventive way. This portion moved back to a balladic feel with gospel-ish overtones. Sweet, soulful and sincere, this tribute to Zawinul hit the mark.

This was a great beginning for the three-week series.