ATN Boston correspondent Seth "I know it's a rock
magazine" Mnookin reports: A couple of year's ago, there was a jazz
that featured a different pianist performing solo every month. (I forget what
festival it was, but that's not the point.) After about a dozen of the
concerts, the festival organizers decided that they would have to ban
Thelonious Monk's composition "Round Midnight" from future performances unless
the musician felt that she or he had a really new interpretation of this
haunting, beautiful jazz classic (it had been played at 10 out of 12 shows).
Herein lies the problem with "Round Midnight." It's a wonderful song,
almost irresistible to performers, but often sounds hackneyed and redundant.
Not so the other night at Cambridge's Regattabar, one of two ritzy hotel jazz
bars in the Boston area (the Regattabar is at the Charles Hotel; Scullers, the
other big jazz joint in town, is at the Guest Quarter's Suite just down the
river) where saxophonist Jackie McLean, vibraphonist Bobby Hutchinson, and
pianist Cedar Walton and his trio played a riveting rendition of "Round
Midnight" midway through their second set that showed just how powerful the
song remains in the hands of musicians dedicated to exploring rather than
mimicking its complexities and subtleties.
McLean, Hutchinson, and Walton,
all jazz veterans who have been playing since the '60s, have matured musically
in the wake of bop and post-bop jazz, and this certainly shows in their music.
Yet they eschew the athletic performances favored by so many boppers and
post-boppers in favor of a more subtle, lyrical, and ultimately more
In "Round Midnight," McLean soloed first, weaving
through the famous theme, jumping into the middle of a phrase with a signature
chord showing where he was in the song, speeding up only to bring the
down to a pace that served to reinforce just how creepy "Round
Midnight" can be. Even at his fastest, McLean retained his gorgeous, round
sound, never once descending into honks or squeals. Hutchinson followed, and
took an opposite approach from McLean, slowing down the melody, a tactic which
made his return to normal time downright scary. Walton, finally, smartly
avoided Monk's signature time and style, instead studiously building the theme
with his right hand while he comped himself with his left. It was a near
And it was that kind of night. Walton's trio (Billy
Higgins on bass and David Williams on drums) were magnificent. Williams bass
bombs and snare bullets were always perfectly timed and never overbearing;
Higgins, while mainly staying in the background, was a rock-solid backbone to
the quartet, not a small feat for a band that was virtually made up for the
evening's performances. There were plenty of other highlights as well --watching
Hutchinson, one of the most expressive (as compared to Milt Jackson, a.k.a. Mr.
Stoneface) and skillful vibraphonists on the scene today, was a treat to;
Higgins' and Williams' breaks often provided surprises in what was already an
all-star performance, and the quartet's rendition of McLean's "Little Melody"
was majestic. But "Round Midnight" was by far the high-light of the five-song
set, and, during a hour-plus of music that was constantly breathtaking, that's