By Marc Lee
Sometimes you can get more than what you pay for. The Sammons Jazz series opener promised a stellar show with two local jazz heavyweights, saxophonist Marchel Ivery and vocalist Simone Jackson. But Wednesday evening’s show gave much more than that.
The tables were full, and the historic pump house’s back wall was lined with those who couldn’t find a seat and those who know the secret of the Sammons Center for the Arts – the acoustics there are great. But no matter where you sat, it was impossible to avoid Mr. Ivery’s fantastic horn.
He has that Texas tenor sound. Mighty squawks and squeals designed to cut through roadhouse crowd noise or snap an audience to attention pepper his solos. But Sammons is no backwater bar, and there are few roadhouses around that’ll give a horn player a gig anymore. So he plied those rowdy techniques with taste, even elegance, to add emphasis to his melodies or punch to his rhythm.
He applied his instincts for simplicity and good sense to the band, too. From the opening song, a Spanish-tinged original titled “Another Minor Thing,” he kept his solos compact and solid and graciously allowed the members of his quintet a chance to blow on every number. They followed his lead, and though nearly everybody had a solo on each song, the tunes never lost their center.
Lyles West, who led his own group at Sammons last year, produced well-phrased, economical lines from his gnarly, black stand-up bass. His solo on “Beatrice” sang with slinky melodies. And trumpeter Tim Weaver, who’s relatively new to Dallas, unleashed a hailstorm of bop licks on “Jackyard” – a tune by the quintet’s pianist, Claude Johnson.
Special mention needs to be made of drummer Andrew Griffith, who, along with Earl Harvin and Ed Soph, is one of the best drummers in town. He’s a blast to watch: shoulders hunched, lips pressed tight and eyes burning like a madman. He certainly swings as if he were crazed. Mr. Griffith got the hand of the might after a spectacular drum solo that moved through Latin, jazz and African rhythms.
Yet another bonus: Mr. Ivery stepped off the bandstand to let Mr. Johnson perform an ethereal ballad of his own composition with Mr. West and Mr. Griffith. After all the drumming and squawking, the pianist’s quiet spiraling notes were refreshing.
Ms. Jackson joined the group midway through the show. Though she stood nearly stock-still during her performance, she has a warm, glowing alto with a remarkable human quality to it.
She wrapped her voice around standards including Duke Ellington’s “Caravan” before, unfortunately, she began to have throat problems.