A Veteran Sideman Rufus Reid Takes the Lead

Rufus Reid
Rufus Reid took the lead on just one tune in his early set at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola on Tuesday night, but he made it count. Arms wrapped around his upright bass, he played “If You Could See Me Now," the jazz ballad by Tadd Dameron, with a slow, sumptuous ease, applying a wide vibrato to most of his notes. His tone was hearty and resounding, and his technique nimble enough to seem utterly natural.

The moment was a rather literal illustration of the idea behind Out Front, his working trio with the pianist Steve Allee and the drummer Duduka Da Fonseca, which had been booked for a single night. Mr. Reid, an in-demand sideman for the last 40 years, has been a bandleader nearly as long, and a committed jazz educator besides. Out Front is a spotlight for his instrumental voice, an effort to nudge it out of the shadows and bring it to center stage.

The trio played a few selections from its recent, self-titled album on the Motéma label: the Dameron tune along with “Glory," a medium-bright theme by Mr. Reid, and “Dona Maria," by Mr. Da Fonseca, who originally hails from Brazil. Altogether the rhythm section upheld a cruising, unflappable vision of post-bop.

That vision extended to a guest front line consisting of the alto saxophonist Bobby Watson, the tenor saxophonist J. D. Allen and the trumpeter Freddie Hendrix. They were there to reprise their role on “Hues of a Different Blue," Mr. Reid's satisfying follow-up on Motéma, released this spring. Conspicuously absent was the nylon-string guitarist Toninho Horta, whose zephyrlike proficiency uplifts the album and might well have enlivened the set.

The guests who did appear put forth a contrasting series of approaches: effusive and soulful (Mr. Watson), effulgent and pugnacious (Mr. Hendrix), strategic and tactful (Mr. Allen). Their solos were concise; nobody got carried away. When Mr. Watson, the most veteran of the three, joined Mr. Reid for a duo version of “These Foolish Things," the rapport was lovely but pragmatic, an allegiance.

Elsewhere the full band grappled with the craftier aspects of Mr. Reid's original music. “When She Smiles Upon Your Face," a breezy lite-samba, dropped in tricky ensemble interludes that could have been tighter; the new album's title track bracketed a streamlined melody with a choppy, odd-metered vamp that never settled in.

Mr. Reid's strength has always lay in a more straightforward vein: “Perpetual Stroll," the title of his first album as a leader, is good and true. (So is “The Gait Keeper," from a more recent release.) No surprise, then, that one highlight of the set was “It's the Nights I Like," a mid-tempo hard-bop reverie with a walking bass line that's not out front, perhaps, but certainly in deep.

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