Alto Saxophonist Vincent Herring Keeps the Magic Flowing at Old Lyme Jazz Venue

Jun 22, 2016

Herring fuses instrumental mastery with equal and unified parts of jazz's holy trinity of heart, mind and soul.

Summer is the most remarkably abundant season for premier local jazz festivals, stomping everywhere from downtown Springfield to the New Haven Green, from Litchfield County’s Goshen Fairgrounds to Hartford’s Bushnell Park.

While these annual rites of swing are invaluable, Old Lyme’s The Side Door Jazz Club has emerged over the past few years as a virtual version of a perpetual jazz festival, functioning as a warm, nurturing source of music.

Year-round, it’s literally an ace of clubs where neither it nor jazz are ever out of season.

As part of this festival-that-never-quits policy, the shoreline jazz spa from week-to-week serves top-shelf fare ranging from Bill Charlap and Fred Hersch to Curtis Fuller and Christian McBride.

In one of the latest vital signs of its role as a timeless presenter of music and musicians for all seasons, The Side Door hosts the ebullient, hard-swinging alto saxophonist Vincent Herring leading his quartet on Saturday, June 25, at 8:30 pm in the club’s cozy side door digs ensconced in the elegant, historic Old Lyme Inn at 85 Lyme Street.

Herring, who is in many ways the heir apparent to such former employers and modern jazz masters as Nat Adderley, Art Blakey, Horace Silver, and Cedar Walton, leads his own high-powered band at The Side Door featuring pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Dave Williams, and drummer Carl Allen.

Herring on alto sax
Credit Steven Sussman

Herring's artistry makes his killer alto acrobatics look easy and full of grace.

As shown by two recent Smoke Sessions Records releases, Night and Day and The Uptown Shuffle, the quartet format is a splendid showcase for Herring’s full-bodied sound and soulful, fluent phrasing, which his original voice brings to bear on the lush legacy of such modern jazz alto titans as Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods, and Jackie McLean.

Inventing within this heroic, classic reed tradition, Herring fuses instrumental mastery with equal and unified parts of jazz’s holy trinity of heart, mind and soul.

On Night and Day, a studio session album with a live concert vibe, Herring burns through four selections with his quartet.

His rhythm section here features LeDonne on piano, drummer Joe Farnsworth and the remarkably big-toned, astonishingly energized double bass wizard from Vancouver, Brandi Disterheft.

On six of the ten tracks, trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, Herring’s frontline partner in the Cannonball Legacy Band with Louis Hayes, joins the quartet. These Pelt-lined tracks showcase Herring’s quintessence in a quintet setting.

The Herring/Pelt one-two knockout punch includes a supersonic flight through Donald Byrd’s "Fly, Little Bird, Fly," and a Herring original, "The Adventures of Hyun Joo Lee," whose journey is inspired by John Coltrane's "Countdown."

If you’re looking for a sneak preview of Herring’s quartet chops at the upcoming Side Door date, Night and Day features such fine samples as the virtuoso’s joyful celebration of the album’s title tune, Cole Porter’s "Night and Day;" a beautiful, moving, Stitt-worthy interpretation of the haunting ballad, "The Gypsy;" a high-caliber, cannonading shot through the canonical Cannonball Adderley's "Wabash;" and a traipse through a samba ballad by Tex Allen, another one of Herring’s ex-employers.  

On the samba piece, both LeDonne and Disterheft switch to electric, while Herring connects once again into his acoustically electrifying plaintive side. His emotionally expressive ballad artistry is the alter ego to the flawless, bravura, hard bop athleticism that makes even his killer alto acrobatics look easy, and, for all their controlled ferocity, come out sounding full of grace.

The Uptown Shuffle, which was recorded live at the Smoke Jazz Club in New York City, is packed sardine-like full of streaming ideas, all compactly preserved in eight quartet tracks. These selections provide even more excellent previews of the alto madness you’ll be hearing from Herring during the Saturday night fever heating up The Side Door.

On Uptown Shuffle, Herring’s handpicked rhythm section features the great Cyrus Chestnut on piano; Disterheft, back with her hard-driving, heft-toned, inspirationally booming double bass; plus, the always reliable, tasteful, tangy Joe Farnsworth behind the drums.

Credit Steven Sussman

Shuffle sprints right from the opening track with an aptly titled, spirit-raising original called "Elation." After a zesty buffet of originals, standards and pieces by other jazz composers, the session signs off with a bluesy, almost folk-themed, feel-good number written by Duke Pearson.

Among the many highlights are unerring Herring triumphs, with such standards as "Love Walked In" and "Tenderly," which is sensitively transformed into a ten-minute aria; a derby winning gallop through Tex Allen’s "The Atholete;" and a soul-stirring, rollicking and rolling romp through the Gershwin classic, "Strike Up the Band," a guaranteed show-stopping flag-waver. A rousing banner performance, it would no doubt be a call to arms for the legion of jazz loyalists gathered at a redoubtable swing stronghold like The Side Door. Information: thesidedoorjazz.com and (860) 434-0886.

The Wright Stuff in Ridgefield

Whatever genre singer/songwriter Lizz Wright graces with her original, expressive artistry — be it jazz, blues, gospel, R&B, soul, funk, pop or the latest minted neo-hybrid -- the constant mesmerizing element is her lush, gorgeous sound.

A splendid instrument in its own right, her voice expressively embraces everything from the sensuous to the spiritual as she reflects on universal themes, from love and loss to life and death, morphing with ease from the physical to the metaphysical, from the sultry and soulful to the cool and celestial.

Lizz Wright
Credit Jesse Kitt

Celebrating her first recording for Concord Records — an acclaimed album titled Freedom and Surrender --  Wright performs Saturday, June 25, at 8:00 pm at The Ridgefield Playhouse at 80 East Ridge in Ridgefield.

Among the highlights on the Concord disc are her sizzling, soul-searing cover of the Bee Gees’ "To Love Somebody;" her dream-drenched, visionary visitation with Nick Drake’s "River Man;" and her mysterious, hypnotically streaming journey along "Somewhere Down the Mystic."

The evening kicks off at 7:15 pm in the theater lobby with a free cheese and wine tasting and an art exhibit by Ridgefield Guild of Artists member Rhonda Gentry. Tickets: $55.00. Information: ridgefieldplayhouse.org and (203) 438-5795.

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