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Saturday night on the way back from flutist Jamie Baum‘s performance at the Atlas, I decided to drop in on trumpeter DeAndre Shaifer at the Bohemian Caverns. I hadn’t seen Shaifer perform in a number of years, enough that I didn’t feel comfortable writing him up for this weekend’s two-night stand. Still, a fellow observer had warned that the young trumpet player mandated some attention these days. The fellow observer was not wrong.
Shaifer was performing with a rhythm section that a leader would have to be a complete fool to screw up playing with (a fact he acknowledged between songs): Pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Steve Novosel, and drummer John Lamkin As if to prove the point, he let the trio perform a tune without him, Charlie Parker’s Latin-spiced “My Little Suede Shoes.” Johnson did fantastic bebop work (referencing Parker here and there), and Lamkin was a fine, hard-swinging drummer as ever, but Novosel, the District’s elder statesman of the bass, was particularly brilliant; his face showed effort and mental wheels turning, but if one closed their eyes, it sounded entirely effortless—as if Novosel had been born holding down the bottom and wringing melodies out of it.
But Shaifer wasn’t content to sound good because those guys were there. His trumpet sound was clear and beautiful, with traces of Clifford Brown here, Freddie Hubbard there, maybe a smattering of Woody Shaw as well. But there were two components in the finish that made the sound uniquely his: an elegant vibrato, one with a decidedly long-wave feel, and a growl—one might even say a bark—that creeped in at the edges.
When Shaifer re-occupied the bandstand after the trio’s performance, he pulled them into a rendition of Duke Ellington’s theme song “Take the A-Train,” with solos by himself and Johnson that showed off both of their artistry and became a conversation about the Duke. Shaifer played a quicksilver improvisation, filled with bluesy turns and impressive melodic figures, but also peppered with at least two quotes from other Ellington songs. (I caught “I’m Beginning to See the Light” and an echo of “Sophisticated Lady.”) Johnson, meanwhile, knows the Ellington repertoire as well as anyone on that stage … but instead, his solo drew from the maestro’s pianistic and compositional devices, his favorite syncopations and predilections for fourths and octaves.
It was a damned impressive night, a good argument for seeing more of Shaifer out here on the scene … but just as important, it was an argument for seeing him with this particular band. It may have been just a pickup for these two gigs, but there was a creative spark therein that can and should be exploited on a more permanent basis.