Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Chuck Redd Quartet

John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts – Millennium Stage
Washington, DC
November, 6 2009

The Binge was back at the Kennedy Center on Friday night for another of their amazing "Millennium Stage" performances (see Moch Pryderi). This time the focus was vibraphonist Chuck Redd’s jazz quartet in what was billed as "A Celebration of Dizzy and Duke". Now I’m no jazz enthusiast, although I do have a healthy respect for the genre, but even I know that tagline was referring to legends Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington.

If you’re not familiar with what a vibraphone is, then you’re not alone. I walked into the Kennedy Center having no idea what to expect. The instrument basically looks just like a xylophone, however a little research tells me that there are some significant differences between the two instruments. For one, the vibraphone uses aluminum bars instead of wood and each bar has a tube paired with it, which produces a ringing "vibrato" effect when struck. Another key difference is that the vibraphone has a sustain pedal, much like a piano, which can be depressed to hold the sound for a longer period of time.

Now, with that key bit of information out of the way, let’s talk about the actual performance. Chuck Redd and the boys strutted onstage decked out in matching suits, looking like they belonged in some smoky, back-room jazz club from the 1960’s. Along with Chuck on the vibraphone, which sat at the front and center of the stage, the quartet also consisted of James King on the upright bass, John Toomey playing a Steinway & Sons grand piano and drummer Nucleo Vega.

With only an hour to play, the band wasted no time getting down to business. Redd played his instrument as fiercely as a rock guitarist would play theirs, making that "ooh it hurts so good" face with each strike of his mallets. Meanwhile, King was all over his fretless bass, moving his fingers so fast that I found myself holding my breath waiting for him to lose his place in the complex, polyrhythmic songs. He even launched into a solo at one point, while Toomey and Vega subtly played in the background, Chuck standing to the side looking on and coolly snapping his fingers to the beat.

As I said previously, I’m not familiar with jazz music or with the greats that were being celebrated tonight, but I did manage to jot down a few of the tunes that The Chuck Redd Quartet played during the set. Chuck introduced Gillespie’s "And Then She Stopped" by explaining that it featured a calypso beat. The band also played Ellington’s "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me" and Gillespie’s "A Night in Tunisia", the latter of which was opened with a stunning drum solo by Vega that Chuck introduced as an "African Battisti" performance.

Towards the end of the set, King and Vega left the stage and made room for an intense vibraphone/piano dual between Redd and Toomey. The two traded rhythms and runs back and forth, note for note until neither of them could resist breaking a smile, and when the rest of the quartet reemerged to finish the set, there wasn’t a person in the room who hadn’t joined them in smiling. When the band finished, they were met with a rousing ovation and chants for an encore. Having come from DC’s own Blues Alley jazz scene, I’m sure Chuck Redd isn’t accustomed to ending his evening at such an early hour. However, the band’s leader returned and regretfully informed us all that the Kennedy Center doesn’t allow them to play for more than an hour, but thanked us all so much for their enthusiasm. A classy ending to a classy evening…kudos Mr. Redd.

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