The double bill of the Charles McPherson Quartet and Walter Blanding Septet was a study in contrasts.
The Charles McPherson Quartet kicked off the evening with a standard 12-bar blues, "Tenor Madness." McPherson plays alto sax himself, but his tone and style owe as much to the old tenor masters as to Charlie Parker, to whom he's often compared. Still, the comparison is fair. McPherson's soloing derives from bebop more than from the styles that came later. The quartet was grounded by the workmanlike drumming of Willie Jones III and the steady walking lines of Ray Drummond on bass. Pianist Jeb Patton proved to be a pleasant surprise, flashing a more modern improvisatory sensibility even while blending into the traditional style the quartet embraced.
After a brief intermission (and another brief wait for late-arriving trumpeter Marcus Printup), the Walter Blanding Septet reminded the audience that jazz comes in a multitude of flavors.
The septet's set consisted of five movements from a larger work, "Tick Tock," commissioned specifically for the music festival.
Blanding's compositions immediately made me think of Wayne Shorter, each one an intellectual and philosophical study in the guise of music. Even his solos recalled Shorter, how each note seemed to be a carefully chosen step in an experiment.
Blanding has nowhere near the flash of McPherson, but their differences are what made the double bill work.
I was particularly impressed with Warren Wolf on the vibes, a performer who seems to fill up the stage, soloing with both flair and passion. The night's highlight was guitarist Lionel Loueke's brief Afro-Cuban interlude, a mix of guitar thumping, string tapping and African-style chant.