Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Music review: Sax legend Scott shows off rich catalog in Himmel show

Saxophonist Tom Scott.

By Bill Meredith

Veteran saxophonist Tom Scott has what amounts to a nice problem when he puts together set lists for his concerts. With 29 solo albums and more than 500 recording sessions, plus a vast array of compositions for TV and film, he has way more than enough material to choose from.

"I have most of it on my computer, so it's pretty easy to run down the list," he said before his appearance Monday night at the Harriet Himmel Theater in West Palm Beach. "Sometimes it's whatever appeals to me at that time, and there are certain things that always seem to work really well. And with [pianist] Shelly Berg, it's easy. He already knows every tune ever written, and in every key."

Berg is the dean of the University of Miami's Frost School of Music, and he was joined in Scott's quartet by bassist and Frost instructor Chuck Bergeron (a veteran of the Buddy Rich and Woody Herman orchestras) and drummer Clayton Cameron, whose masterful brushwork has enhanced several Tony Bennett recordings.

Cameron used drumsticks, however, during the surprising opening take on Cole Porter's Love for Sale. Scott's arrangement of the jazz standard featured a funky New Orleans flavor through the drummer's marching snare, plus Berg's animated flourishes and the first of several stellar acoustic bass solos by Bergeron. Cameron switched to brushes for the Michel Legrand ballad His Eyes, Her Eyes, from the film The Thomas Crown Affair, and his accents proved the perfect complement to Scott's stately alto playing.

Scott said he was channeling his late friend, fellow saxophonist Grover Washington Jr., on his lone original of the evening. Got to Get Closer to You is an as-yet-unrecorded piece that showed the bandleader's more contemporary side, with Bergeron on electric bass to accentuate its mid-tempo, Philadelphia-inspired funk feel.

The first set closed with Scott playing tenor sax on Sugar, the signature composition of another late saxophonist, Stanley Turrentine. Berg resembled Thelonious Monk through his spiked chords and left-of-center solo runs; Bergeron worked the upper register of his acoustic bass, and Cameron displayed swinging soloing ability with brushes on the highlight of the evening's first 40 minutes.

Like many jazz concerts, this one leaned toward a formulaic order of sax and piano solos, then bass and drum breaks, but Scott found ways to overcome that predictability and make the second set stronger than the first. His arrangement of the standard The Night Has a Thousand Eyes offered his tenor prowess, heady ensemble interplay and Latin undertones, and led to the show's overall highlights.

Scott's latest CD is the 2008 effort Cannon Re-Loaded --A Tribute to Cannonball Adderley (Concord), an homage to one of his primary saxophone influences. Its closing track is the standard Stars Fell on Alabama, a staple of the Adderley catalog, and Scott found ways to improve upon even his recorded version. Berg's intro led to one of the saxophonist's best alto solos of the set, which in turn inspired the pianist. Incapable of sitting still, Berg alternately bounced, grimaced and smiled during his break as he stated and enhanced the ballad's melody.

Even better was pianist Victor Feldman's The Chant, also an Adderley favorite. Scott's arrangement featured early bombast through dramatic stops and starts, which were interspersed by Bergeron's bass runs. Cameron effortlessly switched between drumsticks and brushes to accommodate the solos by his bandmates, then traded breaks with Scott and Berg before playing an extended solo of his own near the tune's coda.

The encore for the mostly full house was another favorite standard of Adderley's that appears on Scott's most recent release. I Should Care showcased the influence of Oscar Peterson on Berg, the flexibility of the standout rhythm section, and the ability of Scott to both swing and sing through his alto sax.

Bill Meredith has written frequently about popular music and jazz, including for Jazziz and Jazz Times magazines.

Pianist Ted Howe presents an evening of music by Duke Ellington in the next concert on the Jazz Arts Music Society series, set for 8 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, at the Harriet Himmel Theater, CityPlace, West Palm Beach. Tickets: $35. Call 877-722-2820 or visit www.jamsociety.org.

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