What a difference three years makes. The Sarasota Jazz Project returned to Port Charlotte on Monday, January 9 for Big Band Night in the Charlotte County Jazz Society’s concert series.
With very few personnel changes, the band was stronger and more in the groove compared to its ho-hum December 2013 performance. It showcased both classic and a bit more contemporary material, and this time it also featured a top-notch guest singer. Miami-based Lisanne Lyons sang with a mix of poignancy, bluesy grit and bits of scatting that enhanced her eight-tune performance.
The evening’s instrumentals ranged from the Count Basie Orchestra’s “Splanky” to Los Angeles bandleader Gordon Goodwin’s Basie tribute “Count Bubba.” The Sarasota Jazz Project, now in its sixth year under the leadership of saxophonist George McLain, also performed Wayne Shorter’s “Black Nile,” Clifford Brown’s swinging blues “Sandu,” Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues,” and “Back Row Contest,” a spirited feature for all four trumpeters- Kevin Celebi, Luke Jones, Mike Valasek and Bob Delfausse.
Instrumental highlights included the late big band arranger-composer Don Schamber’s original “Matchpoint,” spotlighting drummer Chuck Parr and lead alto saxophonist Rodney Rojas, and Schamber’s arrangement of “Angel Eyes.” Rojas delivered the evening’s strongest extended solo on the Matt Dennis ballad. The band’s take on “Black Nile” featured tenor saxophonist Tony Benade and trumpeter Celebi.
Lyons, a soprano who grew up in Sarasota, teaches jazz vocals at Florida International University in Miami. Her career has included work as featured vocalist with three U.S. Air Force bands, and performances with the Woody Herman Orchestra, and trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Arturo Sandoval, among many others.
Her great sense of time and ability to make each tune her own were evident right from the start, and the big band kicked it up a notch to support her, including several exquisite introductions and soolos from pianist Jerry Eckert.
Vocal treats included George Gershwin’s “Our Love is Here to Stay,” Charles Trenet’s “I Wish You Love,” “What’s New” (featuring Nelson Riddle’s arrangement for Linda Ronstadt), Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek,” as well as “Deed I Do” and “Cry Me a River.”
Lyons saved the best for the last segment, delivering “That Old Devil Moon” with a creative scat ending, and a rousing take on “Every Day I Have The Blues” as arranged for Diane Schuur’s recording with the Basie Band.
Big Band Night drew the largest crowd CCJS has seen so far in its October 2016-April 2017 season.
Drummer Chuck Parr, who powers the band with solid rhythms and clever punctuating accents, told me before the show that he plans to retire from music this year. That will be a huge loss for this band, as well as other groups of varying sizes with whom he’s worked in and around Sarasota.