THERE were a lot of good friends onstage in spirit Sunday afternoon as a crack quintet paid tribute to the legendary Blue Note jazz label.
Music by Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Bud Powell and Wayne Shorter, performed by tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, trumpeter Brian Lynch, pianist Xavier Davis, drummer Quincy Davis and bassist Steve Kirby, highlighted the second of three weekend concerts in the season opener of the Izzy Asper Jazz Performances series.
The trouble with paying homage to Blue Note, home of the hard bop movement and of some of the best jazz recorded, is where to start.
Silver's Senór Blues hit the spot. It is one the best-known Blue Note songs and the front line of Alexander and Lynch proved to be a powerhouse, in the tradition of BN recordings.
Two other Silver compositions made the cut, Song For My Father and Nutville, which is only fair as he helped make the label a success during its heyday in the '50s and '60s.
Saxophonist Hank Mobley, a superb tenor player and a stalwart of the label, was represented by This I Dig of You. Mobley didn't get the credit he deserved in his lifetime, but his music still sounds great and is the personification of the Blue Note sound.
That sound, for the most part, was based on ensemble playing and not just a leader backed by a rhythm section. The Asper series band easily captured that sound as Alexander and Lynch, while playing some beautiful solos, stuck largely to ensemble play in a tight band.
Pianist Davis was an excellent accompanist and soloist, who nailed the Silver tunes and who turned in brilliant solo playing on What's New.
The weekend shows were a rare opportunity for Xavier to share the stage with his drummer brother Quincy, a jazz professor at the University of Manitoba.
Xavier also shone on the tune by pianist Bud Powell, Wail, which was the best of a lot of good tunes from Blue Note's tome of a songbook.
Tom Thumb, the Wayne Shorter composition recorded in 1967 for his Schizophrenia album, was a treat and underscores the talented musicians who recorded for the label. Shorter, who turned 80 last month, is still a vibrant musician recording and touring.
Drummer Art Blakey was a big part of the Blue Note sound, playing on countless sessions as a leader and sideman, and Quincy Davis kept that big, big sound going through ensemble play and soloing.
Fittingly, the concert ended with Moanin', a Bobby Timmons' composition recorded by Blakey's Jazz Messengers and one of the best songs to grace the Blue Note label.