Awash in colored lights, the Hemmens stage looks great and the sound is excellent when the mics are turned on. The band tore up Kenny Dorham's Short Story to open the set — and set the tone for an audience who might be more familiar with Beethoven than bebop. Jerome Richardson's Groove Merchant was taken to the next level as guest trumpeter Dave Katz displayed his amazing chops with a left hand mute technique.
Bandleader Mark Bettcher busted out a trombone solo on Joe Henderson's classic Recorda Me, and then treated the house to a hip and fearless vocal on a favorite ballad, Angel Eyes by Earl Brent & Matt Dennis.
|The Reunion Jazz Ensemble, directed by Mark Bettcher.|
The Reunion Jazz Ensemble is a twenty-piece band of accomplished musicians that includes seasoned veterans and up-and-coming stars who all play like pros. Most of them took solo turns at the mic and swapped parts throughout the evening.
But they played like a whole new band after the intermission, as trumpet legend Marvin Stamm took the stage. The woodshed was clean, the rhythm was locked, and the brass was so tight it sounded like one player blowing fourteen horns.
Stamm's mellow, unlacquered tone carried beautifully throughout Lars Jansson's The Flyfisher, and Jobim's Quiet Nights opened and closed with Stamm playing off guitarist Bill Kadera like he had eyes in the back of his head. Scampering poetically around the midrange in long and short phrases, going dark, scooping into lip trills, the notes came from a deep and subtle language that few can speak, but all can understand.
Bettcher brought some more heat on Cole Porter's I Love You, and tenor sax standout Matt Muneses played well beyond his years on more breaks in the second set. Drummer Brent Jordan was cooking the whole time and dished some fiercely abstract licks as the night went on.
Yet a legendary musician like Marvin Stamm is more than just performance — he brings the wisdom of an artist to any discussion. In his extemporaneous remarks between numbers, he reflected on the importance of arts education, pointing out that playing in a band teaches us how to function in a community: to pursue individual excellence and also come together in service to a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Sammy Fain's Secret Love closed out the show with Stamm and Katz together, in an amazing display of distinct tonal colors and styles, exchanging questions and statements with the force of two politicians and the grace of two dancers.
Truly, Elgin needs more jazz. America's cultural gift to the world is now a world language, and it needs a revival anywhere that people want to expand the common ground.