The group opened with Jimmy Heath’s “Gingerbread Boy” with Joe Magnarelli leading the charge and quoting from Sonny Rollins’ “Blue Seven.” In fact, the whole night was full of quoting from popular tunes of the jazz idiom. “Shiny Stockings,” “Dolphin Dance,” “Wives And Lovers” and “Mr. PC” all made their way into the concert via different individuals’ imaginations.
The group, composed of Jerry Weldon, Magnarelli, Rick Germanson, Mike Karn and drummer Brandon Lewis (who was filling in for Jason Brown), were able to play a mix of classic standards and originals that all fit in the same vein. They followed the opener with “Amsterdam After Dark”—another tune written by a heavy post-bop tenorista George Coleman. To say Magnarelli is a master trumpeter is a severe understatement, but on this particular night in this particular room it was the sound of his flugelhorn that sparkled. Mags seemed to realize this as he played the melody of this one on trumpet but picked up his flugelhorn to make his improvisational statement.
Weldon’s enormous saxophone sound carried his original “Sonny Valentine.” He has a surprisingly direct and large presence that can be so voluminous that it makes even Magnarelli’s trumpet seem quiet. Weldon’s body language was always extroverted as he bent and raised his horn. He made great use of his physical acoustic sound as he moved toward or away from the microphone and pointed the bell of his horn to different segments of the audience, giving everyone a chance to hear the true sound. Then he was able to whisper on “You Don’t Know What Love Is” in such a way that you could hear a vast airiness on the really low notes that he usually honks right out like in “Sonny Valentine” where many of his solo lines started with a toot of the low end.
Mike Karn, who was playing the role of bassist on this evening, also happens to be “One of the great saxophonists of the world,” according to Magnarelli. Karn works on the scene as both a saxophonist and a bassist, and we were able to see his strengths as both the backbone of the group and as a soloist. His extended forays on “Third Set” and “Doxy” showed his versatility, and his horn-like lines and sensibility.
“Third Set” is another of Magnarelli’s originals that they played “even though this is the second set.” He also mentioned that “there’s a whole story that goes with that, but I can’t tell it in a house of worship,” given that the concert series takes place in the Unitarian Whisperdome in Schenectady. The tune was a grooving minor blues that started with the drums and featured a call-and-response melody between Magnarelli, and Weldon. It also featured that heavy bass sound that can only be attained by the locking in of the left hand on the piano with the upright bass.
All in all, the group played straight-ahead, deep in-the-pocket jazz that swung all night. As such, it was a fitting entree to the new season at A Place ror Jazz.