Ronnie Bedford

Tour de West: Where the Beboppers Roam

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Ronnie Bedford has backed many a well-known jazz artist, including Chris Connor, Buddy DeFranco, and Benny Carter. Now, as a leader, he takes a quintet into Powell, WY, for a live concert of tunes with three Thelonious Monk classics sharing the playbill with three standards. Accompanied by Marvin Stamm, Andy Fusco, Bill Charlap, and Jay Leonhart, all top-rated experts on their respective instruments, Bedford leads the group through a program where inspiring, relaxed improvisation is de rigueur. Presentation of the material generally follows a familiar blueprint: a chorus of ensemble work, then takeoffs on the melody by each of the performers, and then everyone getting back together for a final go as a group. All acquit themselves splendidly. But it's the work of Charlap on piano that will hold the attention of the listener, as it did this audience in September of 1997. Even when he's comping underneath a solo, such as Leonhart's on "Alone Together," his virtuosity seeps through. "'Round Midnight" is solely the property of Charlap's solo piano. His dense opening creates that sometimes eerie and haunting scene usually associated with the bewitching hour that this tune forever memorializes. Bop-based trumpeter Stamm and former Buddy Rich big-band sax player Fusco trade fours on "All the Things You Are," before Fusco writes a lengthy musical essay on this familiar standard. But it's on a powerful and profound "Blue Monk" where the group makes an indelible mark with freewheeling extemporization. Leader Bedford makes his presence known with well-aimed rim shots as well as other percussive donations, all without becoming boorish. His skills in working within the context of a small group are put to excellent use. Bedford's inaugural album as a leader is quintet jazz at its bopping best. Recommended.

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