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10:30 PM – MARSHALL KEYS QUINTET Marshall Keys is one of the most skillful alto saxophonists in the DC area, and as one of the opening acts for the Festival he brought with him an equally skillful quintet: trombonist Greg Boyer (who also works with Prince and George Clinton), pianist Benjy Parecki, bassist James King, and drummer John Lamkin.
Undoubtedly a swinging ensemble – but they opened their second set with a Latin-tinged riff tune that the band soon turned into a flat-out rocker. This turned out to be Wynton Marsalis‘ “Big Fat Hen,” the first in what Keys joked would be a set dedicated to “fowl. Our goose piece is coming up soon.” Actually, true to the festival, the theme was New Orleans, as evidenced by the next tune: an arrangement of “When the Saints Go Marching In” by big easy trumpeter Nicholas Payton (who will also appear at the festival). This second tune may already have been the highlight of the set, played as a midtempo hard-bop ballad, but with beautiful and unexpected harmonies added. Boyer, featured on the tune, delivered a cerebral solo that was both sensitive and muscular, Parecki following with a dancing, delicate piano submission.
The set continued with a couple of traditional New Orleans-style Dixieland marches, albeit with whiffs of the modern; soulful takes on standards and Crescent City legends; and a cha-cha rendition of “Happy Birthday.” All contained meaty, fruitful solos from Keys, Boyer, and Parecki. Easily overlooked, however, was James King; the bassist was perhaps the most consistent person onstage, with a steady hand and relentlessly smart lines but only two extraordinary solos.
Keys and his quintet play Bohemian Caverns again tonight at 8:30 and 10:30; they’re phenomenal. Don’t miss them. 12:30 AM – YOUNG LIONS Technically the Young Lions are a trio, featuring pianist Allyn Johnson, bassist Kris Funn, and drummer Quincy Phillips. Last night, however, Phillips was the only regular member to show up for the weekly late gig. He did bring a power trio with him, however: Ted Baker on tenor sax and Eric Wheeler on bass. They were frequently joined in their two-hour set by electric violinist Matvei Sigalov in music that is not designed for the last stop on the way home…this was high-octane jazz for the night owls who aren’t interested in sleep.
The Lions burned through a program of rhythm-heavy standards (including an inspired take on Sonny Rollins’ “Pent Up House”) and white hot jams, mostly unnamed. Baker showed off impossible chops, while Sigalov focused more on discrete melodic ideas; Wheeler employed fleet fingers, funky and folky dance grooves, and impressive technique. But there was never any doubt who was the star of the show. Phillips, with metal bead chains adorning his cymbals, led the band through ridiculously accomplished, endlessly imaginative lines, fills, solos, and games with time; his work on the snare all by itself constituted a show. And, during a fiendish spin of “The Sidewinder,” Phillips casually let the rhythm begin to fall apart for just a moment, only so he could flamboyantly catch it again just in time.
This was both a completely typical and thoroughly atypical Lions set, however. They deserve a review all to themselves, when the regular band is present; nonetheless, they’re worth checking out no matter who’s onstage. Before you know it, it’s well after 2:00 and you’re behind schedule.