"A Jazzy Tribute"
by Elia Powers
Newport-Mesa Daily Pilot - Jan. 7, 2005
The Cannonball-Coltrane Project rolls through the area as the band continues to celebrate 2 legends.
Some bands spend months rehearsing for their first live performance fine-tuning every musical standard and calculating every stage move.
Not the Cannonball-Coltrane Project, a Southern California-based year of existence with four shows this weekend at the Orange County Performing Arts Center Jazz Club.
At the band's June 2002 debut at Kikuya Restaurant in Huntington Beach, each member studied his part and became well-versed in the music of jazz legends Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, after whom the band is named.
But the entire group, comprising musicians from across the region, had never stepped on stage together.
"It was really a scary night," said alto saxophonist Bruce Babad of the band's debut concert. "The music was so hard to play, and we were trying to pay homage to two great artists."
Two-and-a-half years later, the Cannonball-Coltrane Project is still keeping the memory of its namesakes alive through music. The group makes its Founders Hall debut at the Orange County Performing Arts Center tonight and Saturday with shows each night at 7:30 and 9:30 pm. Tickets are $56 for the 7:30 p.m. shows and $52 for 9:30 p.m. shows.
The band primarily will be playing tunes from its December 2004 release, "Luther Hughes and the Cannonball-Coltrane Project." That album, the group's first, is on sale for $15.
Hughes, the band's founder and bassist, said this weekend's performance is a signicant one for the group.
"[Founders Hall] is one of the most prestigious rooms in the country," Hughes said. "We are very excited to play where so monay famous acts have played."
It's especially gratifying for Hughes, who pieced together the band on a whim. After being inspired by the 1959 album "The Cannonball Adderley Quintet in Chicago," Hughes decided to form a five-piece ensemble to replicate the original arrangement.
He called on old friends and jazz professionals whom he thought could bring out the "deep feeling" behind Adderley and Coltrane's music.
Hughes brought in tenor saxophonist Gleen Cashman and Babad to fill the brass section. He rounded off the quintet with pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Paul Kreibich.
And the group's debut exceeded Hughes' expections.
"Originally, my thought was, this would be a fun thing to do for one night," he said. "I wasn't thinking past that. When we played, the chemistry was there. The crowd enjoyed it way more than I thought they would."
The buzz from the band's first show led to bookings at various Orange County jazz festivals and clubs.
Last September, the group played a 45-minute set at the 10th annual West Coast Jazz Party in Irvine. Festival president and co-founder Joe Rothman said the band was one of the top attractions there.
Howard Rumsey, an influential figure in the Southern California jazz scene and an expert in "be-bop" music, said the band members are some of the West Coast's top studio players.
"They are great students and can expand on what Coltrane and Cannonball did," Rumsey said. "I can't think of any other group that is better qualified to do what they are doing."
And the group has stuck to its roots, continuing to add new elements to old Addderley and Coltrane standards. The band also writes original music that captures the style of the two artists.
Though they play fewer than 15 shows together each year, band members say they've progressed nevertheless.
"It's easier for us now," Babad said. "We've clearly defined ourselves as a tribute band that plays original music as well."
And Hughes is happy with that role.
"No one is ever going to perform the original work better than the masters," he said. "It has never been our intention to surpass what they did. We want to pay our respects."