[10/21/10: Updated with Audio]
George Wein is at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola this week, with the renewable resource known as the Newport All-Stars. The occasion doubles, belatedly, as a birthday celebration. (“This is my 85th October, and I’m glad to be here,” Wein quipped at the start of Wednesday’s early set. “But the truth is, I’m glad to be anywhere.”) It also serves as an intergenerational experiment, by purposeful design.
Before I go any further: full disclosure, etc. Now, you may know that Wein has recently taken a keen interest in younger musicians, stopping by the Jazz Gallery or the Stone or various points in Brooklyn to hear what’s what. This week he decided to welcome a slew of guests he’d encountered on the scene. During the set that I caught, it was Rudresh Mahanthappa, who is 39. (The late set featured Miguel Zenón, another alto saxophonist, a handful of years younger than that.)
Here it should be noted that the rest of these Newport All-Stars are also younger than Wein: tenor saxophonist and flutist Lew Tabackin (70, at left), bassist Rufus Reid (66), trumpeter Randy Brecker (64), guitarist Howard Alden (52) and drummer Lewis Nash (41). Most of this crew has worked with Wein before, and their rapport gives off the rugged ease of a first-rate jam session, like something you might encounter in the wee hours, at mid-deck, on an expensive jazz cruise. (Hmm, actually...)
Still, the language brought to this conversation by Mahanthappa was distinct, a thing apart. It fit the setting just fine, but with some vital friction, so that when the band wrapped up the first tune, Wein chuckled that they had just played “What Was This Thing Called Love?” (Then again, maybe he was expressing unfamiliarity with Tadd Dameron’s “Hot House,” which is how the horns ended the tune.)
“Caravan,” Rudresh Mahanthappa with the Newport All-Stars, Oct. 20, 2010. Posted with permission.
But back to Rudresh. He stretched out just a bit on “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise,” and ranged considerably farther on “Caravan,” which began and ended in a searching mode, with Tabackin’s flute against mallet and hand percussion. (Lewis Nash in free tempo: an infrequent treat.) It was a good jazz moment, a we’re-all-in-this-together tableau that recalled Newport jams of yore.
Wein laid out through that whole episode, with a slight, inscrutable smile. For the moment he was a pianist second, a bandleader third. First priority was pulling it all together. I dare say he’s pretty good at it.
Related: George Wein on the Airwaves