The evening started with a rendition of Hello Brother. Trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis’ New Orleans heritage was evident on this Louis Armstrong classic. He took the first solo and his eloquent phrasing swung to Elvin’s deep rhythms. Tenor sax solos followed by Pat LaBarbera and Mark Shim, respectively. Their distinct voices took the tune in various directions. Anthony Wonsey, on piano, and Gerald Cannon, on bass, followed suit with formidable solos of their own. Then Elvin gave us a taste of his might. Although he swung hard, he was only warming up.
Pat LaBarbera was featured on the next number, the Ellington classic In a Sentimental Mood. He started with a unique introduction and Elvin broke out in a startling display of brushwork as LaBarbera transitioned into the tune’s head. Elvin’s accents seemed to inspire LaBarbera’s strong improvisation. A brief but solid solo from Marsalis followed. Anthony Wonsey then played an incredibly heartfelt solo, which was one of the highlights of the evening. The tune ended beautifully, featuring LaBarbera and Wonsey fascinating the audience in soulful interaction. Then all the musicians converged to round out the closing like a stage full of painters, Wonsey dispensing drops of rain from the piano keys and Elvin providing the thunder.
They saved the lightening for the Japanese folk song Doll of the Bride. Definitely the crowned jewel of the evening, this beautiful composition lends jazz improvisers a treasure of possibilities. Many were unearthed. The arrangement showcased Elvin’s unbelievable skills. During the head, the group played different sections of the melody and paused, leaving Elvin plenty of space (to do his thing). This section was an example of what makes Elvin one of greatest improvisers of all time. When he’s feelin’ it, Elvin tears it up like no other. At 75, there is no doubt that he is still the master of his domain. Even his band mates shook their heads in dismay. Mark Shim’s remarkable solo took the song to new heights. Meanwhile, Labarbera switched to soprano and let loose a spiraling, rhythmic pattern. Wonsey’s piano shapes were reflective and evoked the spirit of the wind. Gerald Cannon’s funky bass solo had the crowd mesmerized and was definitely another highlight of the evening. Elvin’s solo followed. He really rumbled, relying heavily on the snare.
The show ended with what Elvin referred to as the Jazz Anthem, Ellington’s It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing. In high gear from the previous number, the entire sextet was burnin’. As an added bonus Elvin called up Steve Turre from the audience. His extraordinary contribution was the icing on Elvin’s birthday cake.