(Note: This post is appearing about two weeks after I had hoped that it would, so I'm going to ask you to pretend that it's still sometime in late October.)
The Free Bridge Quintet presented its fall concert, on the 22nd, and the whole evening was spectacular. Top to bottom, start to finish, the band was simply on fire. My guess is that the energy was coming from two sources. First, the group was welcoming Wells Hanley, its new pianist, into its midst, making this concert an especially important event. Second, the band was continuing its multi-year exploration of "The Art of the Quintet," performing classic repertoire by the likes of Richie Powell, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, and Horace Silver. With tunes like that to work with, it's no surprise that there was a little magic in the air.
John Edwin Mason, 2010.]
The quintet's front line of John D'earth and Jeff Decker was in typically fine form. Both men also compose and lead bands of their own. Towards the end of the concert, D'earth's gorgeous ballad "In Memory" almost made my heart stand still.
Wells Hanley, piano, John D'earth, trumpet.
Like all of the quintet's members, Wells Hanley teaches in the University of Virginia's department of music. (In both the quintet and at UVA, he's succeeding Bob Hallahan, who's left to take a position at James Madison University's school of music.) Hanley's got chops to spare, no doubt about that. He's also bringing a new sensibility to the group, one that's more open to influences from rock and other contemporary music.
Robert Jospe, drums, Jeff Decker, tenor sax.
Drummer Robert Jospe was in fine form, laying down propulsive grooves and adding a variety of complex textures to the band's sound. Like D'earth and Decker, he leads a band of his own, when he's not playing with Free Bridge.
Jeff Decker, tenor sax, John D'earth, trumpet.
I was lucky enough to have been hanging out with the band during the sound check, just before the concert. With no audience in the house, I could roam the stage with my Rolleiflex, looking for photographs (and occasionally finding them).
Pete Spaar, bass.
Pete Spaar has been anchoring the quintet since the beginning. The first thing you notice about his playing is the rich, warm sound that he gets out of the instrument. (Must be all that classical training.) Then you start paying attention to his terrific technique. But, in the end, it's his understated, yet inventive soloing that really gets your attention.
John D'earth, trumpet, Wells Hanley, piano.
So, the Free Bridge Quintet, Hanley edition, is off to a fine start. But don't take my word for it. Their next concert is in the University of Virginia's Old Cabell Hall, on Saturday, 2 April 2011. You can check them out for yourselves.