Moody, a young 79, leading a superb rhythm section consisting of such veteran Los Angeles players as Paul Kreibech on drums, Tony Dumas on bass, and Bill Cunliffe on piano, played with joy, verve and, most of all, wit. The quartet mixed, matched and mastered tempos and styles through both sets, playing blues, ballads, a bossa nova from Jobim, Coltrane's "Giant Steps" and several standards rendered as only Moody can.
James Moody is not just a great musician, but a delightful performer. He has an infectious sense of humor that shows up in his playing and his stage persona. His between song banter is peppered with jokes that are hardly fresh, but nevertheless funny. In his introduction to "Con Alma," written by his old associate the late Dizzy Gillespie, he explained that the title meant "With Alma." It may or may not seem funny in print, but it was hilarious in the context of the evening--I guess it all goes to show that timing is everything.
If the above maxim is true for telling jokes, it's doubly so for playing music--and exponentially more important at a jazz show. Mr. Moody consistently displayed his keen sense of time whether blowing a smoky blues line on tenor, nimbly coaxing the melody of Jobim's "Wave" from his flute or delivering his humorous vocals on "Pennies from Heaven and his own classic "Moody's Mood for Love." The former was rendered in Moody's vocal as a shaggy dog store about a cuckold with a son named Benny and highlighted by a nice tenor solo that might've gotten lost amidst the laughs in less masterful hands, while the later segued into a clever rap--Kreibech laying down the dope beats and all--about television that Mr. Moody has just about perfected over the years. The only mild disappointment was that he didn't perform any of the material from his excellent new Savoy Jazz release Homage, but it's understood that it is hard to introduce such new material on a date with local musicians rather than a touring group.
Everything came together to make the evening a memorable one. Clancy's rose to the occasion by leading the Moodys and the crowd each set in a champagne and cake toast to celebrate their wedding anniversary, surprising the venerable saxophonist--you could tell he wasn't faking it in the first set by the more nonchalant way he handled it in the second. A special night for Clancy's, for the Moody family, for the crowd. Though the humor sometimes came con maiz, the jazz was never con queso. James Moody proved, once again, a consummate entertainer and musician.