"Round Midnight" Welcome 'Round Here

ATN Boston correspondent Seth "I know it's a rock

magazine" Mnookin reports: A couple of year's ago, there was a jazz

festival

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

satisfying, approach.

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

song back

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

perfect performance.

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

saying a

lot.