Hard-bop redux? Yes, please.

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Another live set review from our man on the scene Charles Latimer. Young local players coming up and sounding like the hard bop pros of old? Yes, please.--JTL

The Thaddeus Dixon Quartet

1/12/06

Baker's Keyboard Lounge

In their suits and neckties, the Thaddeus Dixon Quartet looked professional and sounded polished like the hard bop bands of the 1950’s. Their Friday night set at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge was only the group’s second performance; they’ve only been together for two months. But from the look to the sound, there was no evidence that these guys are new.

At the conclusion of each set, Dixon announced a thirty minute intermission from behind his drum riser, but they only took fifteen minutes. It was as if they couldn’t wait to return, and they got stronger with each set. Dixon also didn’t call any original material, which went over well with the crowd. The regulars at Baker’s like those old tunes, the ones where, in between bites of Baker’s signature fried chicken, collared greens, and macaroni and cheese, they can hum the melodies. And Dixon came with the classics — “So What,” “Giant Steps,” “Swinging at the Haven,” and “A Night in Tunisia”.

Dixon didn’t solo during the first set. He left the spotlight to tenor saxophonist Diego Rivera, bassist Ben Williams, and pianist Mike Jellick. Rivera was moving up and down the chord changes like a mountain climber, and Williams was all over the bass. Jellick, however, was the weaker link in the quartet’s chain. He started out strong, but seemed to lose his way home.

When Dixon finally soloed during the second set, eyes where glued to him like gawking at the aftermath of a car wreck. His licks struck like thunder, and it was obvious the solo took a lot out of him. He called for a ballad afterward, maybe sensing his playing had taken a lot out of the crowd, too.

All of this made for a pretty impressive coming out performance for a rising young bandleader. All night long, I thought that I was witnessing the reincarnation of the hard-bop jazz bands — not a 22 year-old musician who just recently graduated from the Michigan State with his degree in music studies, and who spent his formative musical years as a sideman in bands led by bassist Rodney Whitaker, pianist Carlos McKinney, and work with the legendary R&B singing group the Spinners. As a drummer Dixon is a natural, and he behaved and performed like a journeyman bandleader.—Charles L. Latimer

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