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This is my third jazz review for CVNC and each show has been virtual due to the pandemic. The first two concerts reviewed were presented by major universities. Their strong financial backing certainly can explain why their video presentations were so good. Jazz clubs don't usually have anywhere near the backing that universities do, so I have to commend Middle C Jazz club in Charlotte for their first-rate video presentations. Their opening introductions, made for each show, made me feel like I was watching Saturday Night Live.
Middle C Jazz has, throughout the pandemic, presented live jazz for a live listening audience, allowing 25% of their capacity to attend and showcasing some of the excellent new talent that has recently moved to North Carolina. Christian Tamburr, an exciting jazz vibraphonist from Las Vegas, is now living in the Raleigh area, and he performed with his group March 26-27. Charlie Hunter, now living in Greensboro performed this past weekend with the former Greensboro artist Sam Fribush, who now lives in New Orleans.
Tamburr's program was entitled, A Tribute to the Great Vibraphonists. He began with an up-tempo version of the jazz standard "Body and Soul" and in his solo, he displayed blazing technique on the vibes and sensational improvisational skill. He was so adept at inserting quotes of other tunes into his solo, playing sequences of newly created lines and at double-timing in true Charlie Parker fashion. He continued this high level of improvising throughout the performance that included tunes by or associated with Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, Bobby Hutcherson, and Gary Burton.
His backing group consisted of excellent N.C. artists: Lovell Bradford on piano, Will Ledbetter on bass, and Al Sergel on drums. They were a very supportive and interactive rhythm section. Bradford played solos equally as well as Tamburr, often including quotes and spinning freely into double-time. Ledbetter powered the section with his powerful bass sound and his creative use of ostinatos and Sergel added many fine solos with sensitive but driving support.
Some highlights of the show were Bradford's subtle and beautiful piano solo on Hutcherson's "Little B's Poem" which he reminded me of the impressionistic playing of Bill Evans. The last tune of the show was Tamburr's original "Double Check," which is from his recent CD Sounds of Sculpture. The tune is about a sculpture on Wall Street that survived the destruction of the Twin Towers. This song was my favorite song of the show because of the use of space, interesting chord changes, contrasting dynamics, meter and tempo changes. As he did on every song of the evening Tamburr provided another blazing solo. There were times when the mallets looked blurred, he could play so fast. The skill and energy of this group was definitely something I'd recommend everyone see.
On April 3rd, Middle C Jazz featured organist Fribush, who went to UNCG not many years ago, and guitarist Hunter, a nationally recognized veteran of jazz fusion. Rounding out the trio was the fine drummer, Geoff Clapp. Previously, I had heard Hunter only in jazz fusion settings. However, this concert gave him a chance to play straight ahead because Fribush sounded like an authentic jazz organist in the style of Jimmy Smith or Jimmy McGriff. In this musical situation, Hunter was able to show off his bebop roots and proved that he is a very accomplished jazz guitarist. On all the tunes, he effortlessly improvised in the style of jazz greats Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass.
The evening began with a slow walking, grooving, minor shuffle and the majority of the other tunes were medium tempo blues-oriented. The third tune was reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon." They transformed R&B hits by The Impressions and the Gap Band into good jazz tunes.
The trio listened to each other carefully. Fribush's arrangements of the songs all had rhythmic hits that the group executed flawlessly. Clapp was always supportive and Fribush provided good bass lines on the organ either with his foot or left hand. Fribush's solos often boosted the energy and dynamics of the group. He grabbed onto riffs and sequentially built them up in volume as the group responded to him. Hunter's solos were always flowing and subtle in contrast.
The last two tunes of the set were my favorites. First a Middle Eastern sounding tune by Yusef Lateef which began with a pedal tone and chords that reminded me of the Gil Evans/Miles Davis collaboration Sketches of Spain. The last tune was not introduced, but I was familiar with it; Ellis Marsalis' up-tempo "Swinging at the Haven." Although Fribush didn't say it, I figured this closer was a tribute to the late Ellis Marsalis, patriarch of the Marsalis family and native of New Orleans. The group nailed this bebop tune and it was a great ending to a swinging set.