Not many classically trained musicians make the successful transition into jazz performance, but in Sunday’s (May 8) Camarada concert at the Mingei Museum titled “Flute Fusion,” flutist Beth Ross-Buckley demonstrated laudable progress in her jazz pilgrimage.
She had already moved her well-established chamber series Camarada into jazz territory in January, 2015, when she presented jazz guitarist Peter Sprague and his quintet at the Mingei. On that program, Ross-Buckley played some music Sprague had written for her, a harbinger of her role in Sunday’s concert powered by straight-ahead jazz icons flutist Holly Hofmann and pianist Mike Wofford.
Sprague’s 2015 concert featuring his unique “saltwater jazz,” an eclectic blend of jazz, surf pop, and bossa nova, proved a wise beginning for Ross-Buckley as performer, but improvising with Hofmann and Wofford’s quintet required her to take off the training wheels.
Wofford‘s spirited arrangement of the Cole Porter tune “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” opened the concert. Hofmann’s jaunty solos contrasted nicely with Wofford’s abstract but harmonically rich variations and with Jim Plank’s excursion on vibraphone that simplified the tune harmonically, but revised its themes in subtle, unpredictable syncopation. San Diego Symphony aficionados with a good memory recall Plank’s long run as a star of the orchestra’s percussion section. (I should amend my opening statement with the observation that percussionists and contrabass players cross classical and jazz boundaries with some frequency.) Wofford gave the two flutes a rich, sonorous opening and closing stanza to bookend Porter’s piece.
Another Wofford arrangement, celebrated jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan’s ballad “Ceora,” gave Plank the opportunity for a more dense and complex take. The piece stimulated Hofmann’s more expansive lyric muse, but percussionist Duncan Moore remained content to eschew flashy solos, simply but deftly punctuating Morgan’s song.
Bill Evans made Denny Zeitlin’s hymn-like “Quiet Now” a hit and even chose it the as title song of his 1970 album. This band gave it a slightly academic twist, with Hofmann on alto flute and Ross-Buckley extending the tune with their inventive contrapuntal extensions.
One of Wofford’s own composition’s, “Thelma Blue,” an uptempo blues written in a shuffle feel, gave the entire sextet a chance to flex its muscle. Gunner Biggs, as sophisticated a jazz bassist as they come, rolled out suave, succinct solos, as did Plank on vibes. Ross-Buckley’s vivacious lines intertwined with Hofmann’s, expressing their mutually supportive camaraderie.
Wofford’s cool, dreamy approach to Antonio Carlos Jobim’s familiar “Insensitive” provided the perfect canvas for Hofmann to weave curvaceous counter themes around Ross-Buckley’s more straightforward account of the song’s limpid melody.
With Hofmann so readily at hand, I suppose Ross-Buckley could not resist including a conventional classical etude for two flutes and piano, Franz Doppler”s Rondo, Op. 25. Doppler’s industrious, mellifluous craftsmanship, however, seemed at odds with the inventive freedom of the rest of the program.
The ensemble’s bustling, unrelenting finale served up Sigmund Romberg’s sweet romantic ballad “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise” in mightily transfigured guise. Wofford’s roving imagination wove in riffs from “Blue Skies,” his logical sequence to Romberg’s sunrise.
David Drexler, well-known host from San Diego’s FM jazz station 88.3, hosted the concert, adding thoughtful introductions and commentary. True to its standing in San Diego’s wider musical community, Camarada filled the Mingei auditorium to capacity with an appreciative audience. To quote another title from the Great American Songbook–Who Could Ask for Anything More?