Jazz guitar has evolved over the decades and its evolution has created a myriad of styles. On Saturday night, at the Pabst Theatre as a part of the Hal Leonard Jazz Series, we were privileged to enjoy the stellar guitar work of two major jazz stylists. Similar to last years' pairing of Cyrus Chestnut and Tommy Flanagan, a young lion demonstrated brilliance but the master craftsman displayed that rare jazz wisdom in his approach and execution only capable of an elder practitioner.
The Mark Whitfield Trio opened the evening's festivities with a set consisting mostly of original compositions. Whitfield wasted no time showing why he is considered one of the elite jazz guitarists of his generation. His dazzling fretwork captivated the audience. Unfortunately, his amplifier could have been louder. Donald Edwards, the drummer, was sensational. His cymbal work was excellent throughout the show and his solo, a spectacular creative explosion, was the highlight of the set. Some audience members may have thought he played too loud at times, especially when playing behind the guitarist, but I liked his aggressive style. Although Whitfield matched his intensity, he needed more volume (to complement it). The bassist, Ruben Rogers, having been on the Pabst stage just one month earlier with Joshua Redman, rounded out this clean, crisp trio.
The Jim Hall Trio used a unique selection of compositions to peak the crowd's interest. Over the course of his career Mr. Hall has worked with many artists, a number of them out on the fringes. His first selection was a song he wrote for fellow jazz guitarist, Bill Frisell, entitled "Frizzle Frazzle". Hall joked that the song was written for an artist even more to the left then he and the song reminded one of Frisell's obscure musical personality. He also did a number by Joe Lovano called "Blackwell's Message", a tribute to the late drummer Ed Blackwell. He closed his set with "Say Hello To Calypso", a tune he recently penned in honor of Sonny Rollins, who introduced him to this wonderful sound. In between some of these more unique compositions, he worked in several standards, including "All The Things You Are" and a beautiful ballad, "Skylark". On "Skylark", Hall and renowned bass player, George Mraz were superb. Mraz, a pleasant surprise for those of us who did not know he would be a part of the trio until showtime, was fabulous throughout the set, as an accompanist and a soloist. Terry Clark, the drummer, was subtle and impressive, characteristics often associated with Hall and Mraz.
Overall, I walked away feeling impressed but unfulfilled. The amount of talent was sold short by the quickness with which the artists exited the stage. It seemed as if both trios had just got the pot boiling and their set was over. Although I enjoy the pairings of young lions with elder statesmen, a few more numbers by each trio, or Whitfield joining Hall's trio for a short set, would have made this night complete.