Jazz in Retrospect 

I caught a lot of great jazz over the past 12 days. Trumpeter Cliff Ratliff brought his robust quintet of Melvin Rhyne piano, Hank Hankerson tenor sax, Tom Brinkley bass and Cliff Jones drums to the Chatterbox Sept. 2 for a night of well played straight ahead jazz. The quintet nailed a strutting version of “Cantaloupe Island” with Ratliff, Hankerson and Rhyne delivering some very potent solos. What added more fuel to the already burning bandstand was when Rob Dixon tenor sax and Mike Rodman trumpet showed up and sat in. I have never heard Dixon play with such inventiveness and heat as on his 11 scorching choruses on Coltrane’s “Impressions.” He played with passion-filled hunger that raised the bar even higher for the others on the bandstand as they swung the night away. It was one of those magical times.

Last Friday at Indy’s nicest day, the Penrod Art Fair, I emceed the Jazz tent produced by Rizing Star Entertainment. Bethany Dunlap was slated to sing with her husband’s group Neapolitan, but she was a no show; her husband Glenn sheepishly stated she was having morning sickness. Congrats to them.

Glenn at piano delivered the most eclectic set of non-traditional jazz and pop tunes I have heard. With Bill Lancton guitar, Frank Smith bass and Harry Goodloe drums, they covered “Forever For Now” by Harry Connick Jr., “Cold Cold Heart,” Hank Williams’ country hit, “All Blues” by Miles Davis and Dunlap’s original “Morning Joe,” dedicated to Bethany because he brews her coffee every morning. Neapolitan delivered absorbing jazz interpretations of varied tunes with aplomb.

Cynthia Layne followed and she was on task with a polished and fiery set full of R & B and soulful grooves that kept listeners nodding heads, tapping feet and swaying. She opened with “Funny” and proceeded to captivate the audience with tunes from her Reality CD. A highlight was keyboardist Reggie Bishop igniting a solo journey on a funky version of “Ain’t No Sunshine.” The rhythm section of Jon Woods bass and Kenny Phelps laid down kicking grooves throughout the set and Rob Dixon’s sax added even more fire.

Pianist/composer and bandleader Steve Allee took the stand with a no compromise quintet of local heavy hitters. The front line of Mark Buselli trumpet/flugelhorn, Frank Glover tenor sax, Frank Smith bass, and Kenny Phelps were up for this set. Allee’s original compositions were varied and stimulating for serious jazz fans and even more so for those on stage with him. “Village Masters” with its vampish open launched Glover on an intensity-building atonal journey. “Peepers,” composed for Allee’s noisy frogs in his pond at home, had Buselli delivering some mellow flugelhorn lyricism. “Ray’s Tune” was dedicated to legendary Crispus Attucks basketball coach, Ray Crowe. Allee composed it for the movie Something to Cheer About. Propelled thoughout by the all Indy rhythm section of Smith and Phelps, Allee swung, challenging the horns on their solos and wailing away when he stepped up front.

This was jazz straight with no chaser. I didn’t get a chance to hear Rob Dixon’s set due to other commitments.

Last Friday at the Walker Theatre the Ramsey Lewis Trio grabbed hold of a capacity crowd and swung them, souled them, grooved them and put them into the performance — singing and energetically clapping time with Leon Joyce drums and Larry Grays bass. Lewis’ polished pianistic mannerism covered a full range of jazz, including down home blues and even throwing in some classic quotes as he probingly segued into various moods. He did a medley of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” flowing into Bernstein ‘s “America” to “Betcha By Golly,” where the audience spontaneously sang the melody. Then Lewis eased into “Claire de Lune” followed by “Blue Danube Waltz.” It was a fun-filled smorgasbord evening of pop, jazz, gospel, classical and blues