Dameronia’s Legacy All-Stars
(Ronnie Scott’s. 19 March 2023. Live review by Charles Rees)
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Austrian drummer Bernd Reiter talks often of his love for the playing of bebop drummer Philly Joe Jones, which was made especially clear in his playing last night. In an interview with LondonJazz last year (link below), he explained how it was this love that ultimately led him to the discovery of pianist/composer Tadd Dameron, perhaps Philly Joe’s closest friend and collaborator. One of the most important composers in jazz history, Dameron penned such standards as “If You Could See Me Now” and “Lady Bird”, and it was in honour that Reiter formed the Dameronia’s Legacy All-Stars…
They kicked off their Ronnie’s set with a swinging mid-tempo arrangement of the Dameron composition “Choose Now”. It featured the whole band – a sort of meet and greet for the audience to get to know each of the players. American pianist David Hazeltine‘s comping was the real treat of this number, offering a reminder of a likely etymology of that word; to complement the soloist. He was so deeply in the idiom throughout that one couldn’t help but smile at how completely he has assimilated the history of jazz piano into his playing.
American trumpeter Jim Rotondi, in addition to leading the front line, penned a couple of the arrangements. His classic orchestration of trumpet, trombone and alto, tenor and baritone saxes, was reminiscent of the West Coast recordings for small-group by Bill Holman, Bill Russo and others in the early 50s. Indeed, all the arrangements were classy, unpretentious throw-backs to that era. One particular gem was “If You Could See Me Now”, which was a great feature for Dutch baritone saxophonist Rik van den Bergh.
Dick Oatts followed up with his own ballad performance of “My Romance” later in the set. Oatts always plays this tune so beautifully – no wonder he performs it so often – and Rotondi also played quite exquisitely on this number. Another tune often played as a ballad, Kurt Weill’s “My Ship”, received something of a revamp from Hazeltine on piano. The group went down to a piano trio for this arrangement which borrowed heavily from Cedar Walton’s great rendition; a fitting way for Hazeltine to pay tribute to his hero and mentor.
Though like Hazeltine, not part of the original Dameronia group, French tenor saxophonist David Sauzay fitted in very nicely with his rich vintage tone, echoing the Dexter Gordon sound. The other Frenchman in the band was bassist Fabien Marcoz, who stood in for the group’s original bassist, Aldo Zunino. On trombone duty was Johannes Herrlich, who brought his experiences with such bands as iconic lead trumpeter Al Porcino’s big band to the makeup of this octet.
The All-Stars also took the opportunity to pay tribute to the great trumpeter, composer and arranger Thad Jones, whose 100th birthday would have been next week. Out of his extensive catalogue of compositions and arrangements, they chose to perform “Bluish Grey”. This was especially appropriate as Oatts has been the lead altoist for The Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Band and all its later iterations since 1977. He was unsurprisingly the highlight of this number as well.
The Dameronia’s All-Stars at Ronnie’s Scotts was one of those rare performances for modern jazz that is completely unpretentious. A concept that is not trying to add anything to the jazz art form that has not already been said, but rather one that pays tribute to a part of its rich history in a joyful and accessible way.