For the second time in as many weeks, Houston’s 57 West Jazz Café brought to bear a sorely needed entertainment resource that is best described as an intimate and personal club jazz experience. Having only opened for business on November 10th for the very first time, 57 West Jazz Café began an auspicious debut with guitarist Joyce Cooling; what came next was nothing short of a party waiting to celebrate a victory of sorts. To highlight an underlying commitment to bring the best local, regional and national jazz talent to Houston in a club setting, bassist Mike Manson was the headliner along with a special appearance by saxophonist Steve Cole on November 17-18th. In preparation of their appearance, a little known group known as Quiet On The Set provided an unlikely resource; they were even more compelling than anyone could have imagined. In both instances, patrons of 57 West Jazz Café were greeted with some of the most dynamic contemporary jazz to date; without the stigma of smooth jazz attachments.
With only six weeks together as professional entertainers, Quiet On The Set was an amazing amalgamation of seemingly seasoned musicians. Although their time together has been short, they appear to have a promising future as "old school pros in a new-school world." Their repertoire of songs ran the gamut of jazz, soul and R&B influences and by the end of their set, little had been left for interpretation by the audience. The group had proved their worth as a perfect fit for 57 West’s idea of quality contemporary jazz entertainment in a club setting. The collective chemistry between guitarist Chad Welling, keyboardist Craig Baldwin, bassist Morgan Stevenson, drummer Antwan Stewart and vocalist Robert Berry proved to be some of the best I have seen to date. In my mind, they are already seasoned pros; in fact, expect to hear and see great things coming from the phenomenal Quiet On The Set.
The interaction between Mike Manson and Steve Cole was nothing short of sensational. Although Mike was the main attraction at 57 West Jazz Café, Steve was not left in the background waiting to express himself. Both artists have a background steeped in the traditions of R&B and contemporary music. Manson’s background includes stints with Kirk Whalum, George Duke, Al Jarreau, David Sanborn, Steve Cole and many others; he also has a gospel connection, which includes associations with James Cleveland, Tramaine Hawkins and Vanessa Bell Armstrong. Cole’s resume is just as impressive, he has spent time with Boz Scaggs, Steve Rodby, Pat Metheny and Ricky Patterson. As a dynamic duo and as friends, Mike and Steve were nothing less than stellar together as they complimented each other with songs from many of their individual recordings, as well as renditions made famous by other artists. To see the two together left a lasting impression that Mike and Steve were more than just two artists appearing together; they had a bond that superseded the familiar, their relationship was charismatic and genuine. The give and take as well as the back and forth between the two allowed the very essence of their own individual talent to be magnified evenly. Mike and Steve even made way for the band to get involved with individual performances as well. One notable interaction between bassist Keith Vivens and Manson was a definite showstopper; in addition, guitarist Jerry Johnson’s amazing array of riffs was another highlight of the evening.
In a little more than two successive weeks, 57 West Jazz Café has began a process that will provide Houston, Texas with a much needed source of consistent contemporary and straight ahead live jazz entertainment. If all goes well, Houston will re-visit the heydays of Cody’s, La Bastille, the Ebony Ballroom, Jazz Connection, Club Supreme, Rockafellers, Club La Veek and Magnavox. As the fourth largest city in the United States and the largest in Texas, 57 West Jazz Café is a much needed resource as one considers the diverse make-up of the city’s population. Although Houston does not have a commercial jazz focus, aficionados are sure to rally around the overall intent of 57 West Jazz Café in bringing intimate and personal live jazz in a club setting. Mike Manson and Steve Cole’s appearance was merely another addition towards that end. In successive weeks ahead, where one door closes and another one opens to reveal fresh and exhilarating musicians, Houston will revel in the idea that jazz does have a place in the 4th largest city in the United States, where jazz will not be relegated to second-class status behind R&B, gospel, rock, and C&W music.