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Elvin Jones

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The band was a little late assembling. Elvin's wife Keiko was still timing "the Basher's" arsenal. Guitarist Ryo Kawasaki and taxi were just arriving and Azar Lawrence's slap-tongue horn-warming technique could be heard drifting from the back room. The distant juke box was quiet and even the usual banging of the cash register was missing. After a few words with a nervously impatient overseer Elvin approached the bandstand, his youthful charges well in tow. Across the drummer's brow, the energy within had already begun to erupt in a moist glow. The first drum roll was warning enough -Elvin was ready. A familiar and insistent march cadenee suddenly filled the wellmirrored club, and the Detroit audience knew it was in for something quite beyond the mere routine, "on-the-road" evening of fine music. Sure, there was to be the expected one slow, one up-tempo fantasia of tunes, such as "Three-Card Molly ," "My Ship," "SoulTrane," "Naima," et al, but the Bashej was back home now and the gathering crowd of relatives and old friendsjammed the joint with more than enough inspiration. For all the guaranteed excitement, had it not been for the presence of tenor saxophonist Azar Lawrence, I am sure this weekend would have found me elsewhere. It must have been four years ago at the Strata Concert Gallery that I first heard the lilt and slur of Azar's horns and, obviously, I was curious to know, as his recent recordings would only partially show, the extent to which he had integrated or dismissed his many experiences and influences. The long flowing cadenza on the night's second song quickly answered this private inquiry. A rapid succession of notes, rushing from the shrill top of his hom to the quake at the bottom, damn near stopped the waitresses in their busy gin sprints. Elvin folded his arms and his smile gripped a dangling cigarette holder as he nodded and winked in approval from face to face. Everybody was laid-back and totally engrossed in Azar's solo. The tell-me-how-long-the-Trane's-beengone blues tonality was-evidënt, but hardly in the imitative fashion that tends to characterize so many young players caught in the impossible task of resurrecting the Master. The strength and dexterity of Azar's playing displayed not a new conviction-the Coltrane edge was unmistakably there as during his-Stint with McCoy- but I could hear a bit of those boundaries giving way to yet another threshold of musical possibility. Pharoah, where are you? (Pharoah Sanders, of course, was over on Fenkell Avenue at Watts' Club Mozambique, fronting his new organ trio- Ed.) The bassist, David Williams, of whom I had heard as far away as Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, where he was born, was asbrilliant as he was dependable- and you know how challenging this can be in a piano-less group. His solo on "Yesterdays" not only gave the rest of the group a needed break but showed how well he can structure an intricate and compelling improvisation. Scofield Pilgrim, the father of jazz in dad and a fine musician in his own right, would be very proud of this moment. Guitarist Ryo Kawasaki, with a strong Rock-like facility of incredible speed and jazz reference, was next up for the conclusión, emphasizing perhaps a well-known fact- Elvin's group was the baaadest gang in town. They didn't wear Borsalino hats and live on the east side, n,or did they have to observe any curfew-but, as for the ripoff, some seventy or more people were stripped temporarily of a city's tedium as they tucked themselves into the warm, lush embrace of "Naima." These musicians can stick me up like that- any old time.