George Wein & The Newport All-Stars
In New York

By Martin Longley

The avuncular George Wein is beaming like he's holding his own personal jam session at home, inviting his favourite players and basking in their glow. Well, this is pretty close to the reality of this opening night of a run at Dizzy's Club, one of New York's best music joints, housed within Jazz At Lincoln Center, which is itself a few blocks south of the main Lincoln Center arts complex, up on the fifth floor of a shopping centre. Bands play in front of a glass-paned background, looking out over the south-west corner of Central Park, surrounded by twinkling skyscrapers, lights suitably dimmed to an organic glow within the club's fine acoustic space.

Inviting his favourite players out is essentially what the octogenarian pianist Wein always used to do when programming the Newport Jazz Festival, only on a much grander scale. Rarely could we see a musician looking so content with his lot, so happy to witness the interaction of his band. This might  paint a picture of Wein being a bystander at his own party, and there is indeed a strong element of relaxation in his demeanour. He's not flashing up and down the piano keys at high speed, or barking out instructions, or commanding a set-in-stone running order. Instead, Wein allows plenty of space and thoughtfulness into his soloing approach, invariably making his carefully chosen statements at a precisely opportune moment.

The most remarkable aspect of this evening is the unlikely combination of players involved, a testament to Wein's boundless taste. This is the first time that I've caught trumpeter Randy Brecker without his trademark beret, and sporting a suit. He's almost unrecognisable, and we don't often have the chance to witness him negotiating such a mainline jazz repertoire. Randy's horn partner is saxophonist (and flautist) Lew Tabackin, who manages to combine gracious smoothness with just a touch of eccentric orneriness. Then, Howard Alden's on guitar, arriving from a completely different mainstream scene, and the bass/drum axis is handled by the more modernist Peter and Kenny Washington.

Everyone seems to be feeding off Wein's glow, as Brecker and Tabackin deliver a faultless round of solos, already in flight by the second number, Birk's Works. Brecker is gleaming and precise, on trumpet and flugel, whilst Tabackin is feathery yet tough, his tone the kind of internal, intimate wheeze that nowadays seems almost banished from the music. Every reedy grain is tangible. George jokes that Lew likes to play in trio format, without a piano. Lew almost feels guilty, pointing his horn at Wein, serenading his leader whilst the pianist leans over attentively, smiling. Alden also gets a trio spot, and George sits out at the crucial climactic point of the set, allowing Michel Camillo to join in for a joyous reading of Take The 'A' Train. It's clear that Wein is a most generous host...
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