This Monday evening at the Blue Note saw a gathering of musicians who came together to celebrate the life of flutist Herbie Mann who passed away July 1st after a lengthy battle with cancer. Mann had already been formerly eulogized at a service October 20th at St. Peter's Cathedral, with music from David "Fathead" Newman and others. This was a more informal occasion, featuring musicians associated with Mann, some who had worked with him, others who are carrying on the jazz flute tradition for which he did so much.
Opening the proceedings was The New York Jazz Flute Quartet, consisting of Andrea Brachfield, C flute and alto flute, Michel Gentile, C flute, Jamie Baum, alto flute, Anders Boström, bass flute. All four are accomplished performers, Brachfield and Baum being slightly better known through their recordings. Their contribution in the first set was a Jamie Baum arrangement of Dippermouth from the Herbie Mann album Mississipi Gambler. They work without benefit of a rhythm section but there is no lack of rhythmic interest. Anchored by Boström's bass, the arrangement was built on a variety of rhythmic figures and vamps, with voicings shifting between the four instruments, each stepping forward with improvised sections. This was the debut performance for the group and it can only get more interesting as it evolves.
Next up was the Dave Valentin Group, Valentin on flute with Bill O'Connell, piano Ruben Rodriguez, bass, Buddy Williams, drums. Valentin, who also acted as musical director, emcee and raconteur for the evening, was inspired by Herbie Mann as a youngster and went on to develop the role of the flute in Latin Jazz that had been so important to Mann's career. On this evening Valentin demonstrated the elan with which he has played this role. Driven by a superb rhythm section, he demonstrated the effortless virtuosity and good humor that won him a recent grammy for work with the Carribean Jazz Project (The Gathering). Beginning with Wayne Shorter's Footprints, Valentin turned to Herbie Mann material, with rousing versions of Memphis Underground, Comin' Home Baby and Obsession from the Two Amigos recording which paired Valentin and Mann. He was joined by a number of guests. Guitarist Lou Volpe contributed several fine solos and Valentin was also joined by two veterans of Mann's Latin recordings, Patato Valdes and Ray Barreto, with Barreto and Valentin briefly trading phrases on Obsession in a way evocative of flute/tabla exchanges in Indian classical music.
The Latin theme was to be developed further, but there was more to Herbie Mann than Latin music, or even than the flute. As a young man he wanted nothing more than to be a tenor player in the mode of Lester Young, and as recently as fifteen years ago he recorded an album of Young material with Jay McShann, Doc Cheatham, and Gus Johnson. To evoke this "straight ahead" aspect of Mann's work we next heard from Lew Tabackin, who in the course of one selection, Jerome Kern's Yesterdays, reminded us that he is a master of both tenor and flute. His flute work throws off multiple simultaneous impressions, from Debussy to Monk, with a huge tone that cuts through in spite of the fact that he plays unmiked, and allows him to explore all registers of the instrument. After O'Connell's piano solo Tabackin switched to tenor exhibiting his unique approach to that instrument, starting with a Coleman Hawkins foundation and branching all over the history of the tenor. It was a brief performance but Tabackin covered a lot of ground.
In an interview earlier this year, I asked Herbie Mann which, of all the music cultures he had explored, was the most meaningful to him. His response: "If I had to choose one it would be Brazil." So it was fitting that the final set was given to one of the World's best-known Brazilian jazz groups. Trio da Paz consist of bassist Nilson Matta, drummer Duduka da Fonseca, and, normally, guitarist Romero Lubambo, although on this occasion Romera was replaced by pianist Helio Alves. They were joined by one other Brazilian, trumpeter Claudio Roditi, and the incomparable Paquito D'Rivera. With Paquito on clarinet they played Blues Walk and they followed this with a fast samba called The Monster and the Flower. Some of the guest artists on recent Trio da Paz albums have not completely jelled with the trio but Roditi and D'Rivera meshed instantly, along with Alves, soloing with wonderful fluency and energy over Matta and da Fonseca's faultless accompaniment. Very satisfying, but again, too brief.
Herbie would have loved every minute of this evening. As Dave Valentin said at the end of his set, "This was for you Herbie - it's all your fault!"