Trumpeter Joe Magnarelli and saxophonist Jerry Weldon topped informal polls when A Place for Jazz volunteers cooked up its 27th season. So why not put them together?
On Friday night, they delivered a straight-ahead display of impressive clarity of purpose and playing.
Both horn men took their cues from players who dominated the 1960s and ’70s when both formed their styles — Magnarelli from Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, Weldon from Stanley Turrentine and George Coleman. When they (rarely) took risks, they always made it pay off in two-hour sets with more skill than originality.
While not a regular, working band, the quintet sounded well-prepared, cohesive and smooth, playing mostly within themselves. Drummer Brandon Lewis hadn’t played with them before, but he’d clearly done his homework and was way past the steep part of the learning curve with the band and its tunes. Lewis and bassist Mike Karn proved highly simpatico, so their grooves felt elastic, and organic.
Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” got everybody on the same page, a riff song that gathered momentum with faster and faster handoffs, as if the half-life of these brisk melodic fragments shrank while the adrenaline mounted. George Coleman’s bossa “Amsterdam After Dark” danced across Latin America, Weldon going all Sonny Rollins with sheets of sound against a busy groove.
Magnarelli’s own “Easy Transition” was, in fact: a top-down, wind-in-the-hair road trip, with pianist Rick Germanson ascending busy scales and arpeggios. Weldon naturally starred in his own “Sunny Valentine,” a treat and a tribute to Rollins in which he went furthest outside. He delighted in Magnarelli’s fleet solo, grinning and shaking the piano as he danced against it, loving what his compadre did with the tune.
Weldon’s body language was both expressive and functional. He seemed abandoned, wild, engaging the music with hips as well as lips. But he was carefully calibrating his volume by advancing and retreating on the mic, dynamic in more ways than one.
They started the second set with “The Third Set,” a mid-tempo call-and-response number, and they used this exciting technique to even more thrilling effect in the jump tune that followed the show’s only ballad — a showcase for Germanson in Bill Evans mode. If the ballad soothed, the jump tune seethed and surged, powered by Karn’s bass in ensemble passages and Lewis’ drums everywhere else. Everybody jumped up at the end, awed.
The soft Latin groove “The Blue Key” began a two-song, let-‘em-down-easy close.
Un-flashy journeymen, the serious Magnarelli (who cited many Albany area gigs with giants past and present) and the jovial Weldon won’t likely be household names, but instead seemed totally comfortable and in command, workmanlike artisans of jazz who ably summoned up a variety of well-made moods in smoothly articulate and usually familiar language.
The 27th season of A Place for Jazz continues Oct. 4 with the Jeff Hamilton Trio.