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Sabang Brings Jazz To Wheaton, MD

The Fish Middleton Jazz Scholarship Fund (FMJS) is a non-profit organization that was created in memory of Elmore "Fish" Middleton to continue his vision of the perpetuation of jazz and supporting emerging jazz artists. Its major event is the annual East Coast Jazz Festival that I have reported on in previous years (www.jazzreview.com/articledetails.cfm?ID=4059). This year's event has had to be postponed, however, due to construction at the Doubletree (soon to be Hilton) hotel in Rockville, MD where the festival is held. Another factor is that the festival's prime mover, vocalist Ronnie Wells, has been out of action while dealing with some rather serious health problems. Hopefully both Ronnie and the festival will be back, stronger than ever, in early 2008.

In the meantime, the FMJS is carrying on with a series of smaller events. The most regular of these is a weekly session at Sabang Indonesian Restaurant in Wheaton, MD. An up-and-coming area on the outskirts of Washington DC, Wheaton has been designated an arts and entertainment district but Sabang owner Victor Lantang has been ahead of the curve for some time, presenting live jazz every Saturday night as well experimenting with Indian classical music and Indonesian Gamelan. It is a great venue for these activities, centrally located, easy to reach minutes from the Metro with ample well-lit parking. The room is comfortable, the piano adequate, the sound system good quality, the food tasty they offer a varied, spicy Indonesian menu and the music consistently enjoyable.

I caught several performers over a couple of months. The emphasis is on acoustic, straight-ahead jazz, with up-and-coming younger artists alternating with veteran artists. The most veteran Buck Hill was scheduled to appear but was unfortunately indisposed; he will undoubtedly be rescheduled after his 80th birthday celebrations at the Smithsonian Jazz Café.

The first group I caught was at the other end of the age spectrum. Pianist, composer (and sometime violinist) Alex Brown, a product of Lewis Dutrow's band program at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, MD, is currently a student at the New England Conservatory. (See: www.alexbrownmusic.com) He brought a quintet into Sabang in January to perform mainly his own compositions. His writing is interesting, although I would have preferred a slightly more balanced program with one or two more standards; the only one we heard was Miles Davis' "Solar." His work with Jane Bunnett (see www.jazzreview.com/article/review-4538.html) has given him an interest in Cuban music which was reflected in his composition "Central Havana" as well as his inclusion of a conga drummer in the group. If all the pieces were Latin his presence would have been welcome but several of the numbers were straight-ahead swing with no role for congas so he was a little redundant at times. Perhaps another horn player would have been a better choice. A small quibble though; the quintet were consistently interesting and it was an enjoyable evening.

February saw another Brown at the club, also a pianist, but this time the veteran Larry Brown and his quintet. (See: www.larrybrownjazz.com) The timing was fortunate Larry has just walked away with the Washington Area Music Association "Wammie" award for best jazz group, as well as an award for best jazz album for his recent release Hard Bop Café. The title tells the story of this group, it plays straight out of a Hard Bop bag, with compositions, on their recent CD, from Kenny Dorham, Duke Pearson, Cedar Walton, Hank Mobley and others, along with originals by the leader. Trumpeter Kyle Funn evokes classic trumpet stylists such as Kenny Dorham and Lee Morgan, while tenor saxophonist Peter Fraize has listened to Mobley as well as Brecker. Kent Miller and Nasar Abadey rounded out the quintet on bass and drums. The set I caught featured a nice balance of originals and standards, and Fraize, Funn and Brown are all fluent and convincing soloists. The set opened with Cedar Walton's "Bolivia" and proceeded with selections from the CD such as Pearson's "Big Bertha" along with standards such as "East of The Sun" and "You Stepped Out Of A Dream." I stayed on for the beginning of the second set to hear Tom Harrell's "Sail Away," a particular favorite of mine. Overall, with New York swarming with Coltrane clones, it is refreshing to hear some music from a slightly earlier era and Brown & Co. perform hard bop with conviction and relish.

The Saturday nights at Sabang continue with quality local artists such as trumpeter Vaughn Nark, guitarist Paul Wingo, bassist James King and several vocalists from Ronnie Wells' studio. They are experimenting with Sunday brunches,(a Valentine's Day gathering featured Larry Brown on piano with saxophonist Ron Kearn's quintet) as well as other times and other genres. If you are in the Washington DC area you should put Jazz at Sabang on your list of attractions.

For more information: www.fmjseastcoastjazz.com

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Alex and Larry Brown
  • Concert Date: Ongoing
  • Subtitle: Weekly Sessions Carry Acoustic Jazz Banner for FMJS
  • Venue: Sabang Restaurant
  • City State Country: Wheaton, MD
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