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Review: Trumpeter Wallace Roney at Jazz Showcase

Howard Reich

April 26, 2014

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There is a noble tradition in jazz in which seasoned musicians train the next generation in the best way possible: on the bandstand.

Drummer Art Blakey famously burnished the careers of uncounted musicians, among them Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Wayne Shorter, Johnny Griffin, Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Trumpeter Wallace Roney – also an alum of Blakey's Jazz Messengers – clearly wishes to carry forth that legacy, for the quintet he brought to the Jazz Showcase on Thursday evening was staffed by three emerging artists, plus the richly experienced Chicago bassist Marlene Rosenberg.

No doubt Roney's protégés are benefiting significantly from this experience, as will the art of jazz in the long run. But, ultimately, the most interesting and valuable music of the opening set came from Roney's horn, with Rosenberg playing at his level from start to finish.

Listeners often associate Roney with Miles Davis, thanks to Roney's work with the jazz legend early in Roney's career. But at this point Davis' impact on Roney can be considered mostly historic, Roney's playing larger in scope, firmer in tone and sharper in attack than Davis'.

Whether he was playing up-tempo original compositions or mainstream ballads, Roney proved compelling in idiosyncratic ways. Even at the fortissimo level, there was a sometimes plaintive, sometimes questing quality to his music. His tendency to produce smeared tones, bent pitches and jabbing rhythmic figures in the stratospheric range of the instrument distinguished his playing, as did the volatile spirit and ever-changing direction of his phrases.

Moreover, whenever Roney was playing, all attention was focused on him, the young musicians receding into a sonic backdrop.

The trumpeter opened the evening with considerable force, offering bracing, harmonically pungent work in "Melchizedek." Its muscular character, ample rhythmic drive and unrelenting syncopations set the tone for what would be a mostly exuberant set.

In "Pacific Express," Roney produced jagged lines that inexorably gathered force and momentum despite an unhurried tempo. The searing power of Roney's solos was matched by the propulsive energy of Rosenberg's.

Even in a ballad, such as Buster Williams' "Christina," Roney conveyed considerable tonal weight and full-bodied lyricism. Throughout, he consistently pursued the unexpected chord change, the melodic note one did not anticipate.

Saxophonist Ben Solomon stayed with Roney note for note in unison passages, no small feat, and showed plenty of technical finesse. But he's still searching for a distinctive sound. Perhaps coming years will enable him to enhance the texture and tonal variety of what now is a mostly opaque timbre.

Pianist Victor Gould played plenty of notes, but he was largely unprepossessing in this context, overwhelmed by Roney and the rest of the band. And drummer Kush Abadey yielded more sound and fury than pianist Gould was able to muster, showing great potential; yet he still needs to bring additional dimension, variety and subtlety to his work.

The nascent nature of these accompaniments inevitably placed the focus on Roney and Rosenberg, who did most of the heavy lifting here. Roney consistently commanded interest, and Rosenberg produced something close to an avalanche of notes.

If listeners weren't encountering an ensemble of equals, Roney's playing, at least, was well worth hearing. And no one did more to keep this band pressing forward than Rosenberg.

The young musicians are bound to learn a great deal from her, as well.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday

Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court

Admission: $25-$40; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com