Big band bebop at its finest


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A 17-day family road trip brought me back to Rhode Island for the second time in a month, returning in September, not long after my August visit to cover the Newport Jazz Festival. The scheduling gods worked their magic for this September journey.

In other words, I got to hear the splendid John Allmark Jazz Orchestra on Monday, September 9 at The Met Cafe, a premiere RI music emporium that is located in a former mill building in Pawtucket. The band plays there on Mondays once or twice a month.

You can never be sure which charts the British-born trumpeter will pull from his huge band book on any given Monday,. But the music is always swinging — and delivered impeccably by his crew of southern New England musicians, most of whom are Boston or Providence jazz mainstays.

On this night the finest moment came very early, as Allmark and alto saxophonist Bob Bowlby traded solo firepower- back and forth- and back again, and again- on “Groovin' High." Composer Dizzy Gillespie recorded the 1945 tune several times that year (in quintet, sextet and quartet formats, twice on the East Coast, once on the West Coast), all with fellow bop pioneer Charlie Parker in his band.

Allmark and Buddy Rich band alumnus Bowlby put their own feverish marks on the bebop classic, musically tipping their hats to Bird and Diz in the process.

In addition to his regular big band appearances at The Met, Allmark also fronts a Super Jazz Octet that performs regularly at Askew in Providence's Jewelry District. It, too, is a great vehicle for his trumpetry and exquisite arrangements. The next octet gig at Askew is Sunday, October 6.

One of these trips, I hope to catch that one too.

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This story appears courtesy of Ken Franckling's Jazz Notes.
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