"Ball and Trane"
by STEVE EDDY
Orange County Register - Jan. 10, 2005
Normally, when you see a band with two saxophones out front, you might start anticipating an old-fashioned battle of the tenors à la Jazz at the Philharmonic.
Not so with the new aggregation of Westminster's own Luther Hughes. First off, the reed instruments are a tenor and an alto, thank you. And second, nobody is there to "battle" anybody. Rather, the quintet's purpose is to honor two of jazz's greatest exponents, concentrating on a particular point in their careers and then building on that a bit.
Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (1928-1975) and John Coltrane (1926-1967) will best be remembered for efforts under their own names, as well as for a fabled stint with Miles Davis. But, as Hughes' Cannonball-Coltrane Project showed Friday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center Jazz Club, their own brief collaboration produced some meaty and memorable music.
Hughes assembled a top-shelf ensemble of musicians for live dates and a CD. All have strong local roots or ties and might not be household names, but you'd be hard-pressed to find more formidable and empathetic players than pianist Tom Ranier and drummer Paul Kreibich, not to mention bassist Hughes himself, and splendid alto saxophonist Bruce Babad and tenorist Glenn Cashman.
Dressed nattily in tuxes, the band almost looked liked it belonged next door at the center's "big room," maybe handling a little Handel or sawing strings behind Pavarotti. But beneath that staid façade lies a lot of soulful and burning ability.
That was evident immediately, in the first tune of the night, one of seven to be rendered. Tadd Dameron's "Super Jet" is a number recorded on the lone album (1959) that Coltrane and Adderley made together, a live date. Cool but sprightly with skin-tight ensemble playing, it showed how well-oiled and drilled this little band is. And it gave the two sax men a chance to blow.
Neither is an imitator of Adderley or Coltrane, but there certainly is evidence of those men's styles in their playing. Cashman (a highly regarded educator) was smooth as silk while spewing out the kind of torrents of notes Coltrane was renowned for.
Babad, also a player/teacher (Fullerton College), is certainly no soul slouch, even compared with Adderley. He wailed on, then wailed some more, recalling a time when this music existed solely to raise the listener's blood pressure.
On this number and throughout the evening, the rhythm section was adept but not intrusive - Ranier the heady chord guy and fluid in his own solos; Kreibich the subtle but propulsive timekeeper; and Hughes the meaty, nimble-fingered bassist.
For the CD, band members composed their own tunes as well, and several were offered Friday. Two particularly stood out: Cashman's "Trane Remembered," a tender, melancholy (but not maudlin) ballad that recalled the softer, breathier side of Coltrane. And Cashman's rocking, funked-up "No Mercy" was a sort of alternate look at Adderley's most famous recording, that of Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy."
The show closed with a cut from the 1959 album again, and only 'Trane, who possessed a pleasingly eccentric ear for the odd tune, could have picked this one: the ancient "Limehouse Blues" done up for modern-jazz combo. All bets were off here, with the two saxists really tearing it up in an enormously crowd-pleasing fashion.
Here and during the whole gig, there were enough nods and winks among the musicians to make it clear that this tribute thing really was a pretty nifty idea: "Hey, this is going OK!" they were saying.
They were right.