Tony Dagradi Sextet Plays Kind Of Blue

On March 5, 2009, in Roussell Hall at Loyola University in New Orleans, the Tony Dagradi Sextet featuring Jamelle Williams on trumpet, Rex Gregory on alto, Michael Pellera on piano, Roland Guerin on bass and Troy Davis on drums re-created the music from Miles Davis' landmark recording, "Kind Of Blue."

Click here to see a Vimeo recording of the event.

Tony Dagradi’s Sextet opened the show on Thursday, March 5th, at Loyola’s beautiful Roussel Performance Hall. The sextet performed the music of Miles Davis’ classic jazz record, Kind of Blue, to great effect. The band consisted of Troy Davis on drums, Rex Gregory on alto sax, Jamelle Williams on Trumpet, Mike Pellara on Piano, Roland Guerin on Acoustic Bass, and Dagradi on Tenor Saxophone. The perfect acoustics in Roussel Hall made the performance an exceptionally good listen for the numerous jazz fans that were gathered to see Brian Blade’s triumphant return to his alma mater, in addition to Dagradi’s presentation of Kind of Blue.

Troy Davis and Roland Guerin played the rhythm section roles established by the original musicians, Jimmy Cobb (drums) and Paul Chambers (bass) very well, even down to the tiny nuances in their playing. Rex Gregory, wearing his Phil Woods style be-bop hat, looked and played like an old master, nailing the parts established by Cannonball Adderly with an effortless mastery of his horn. Mike Pellara at the piano was channeling Bill Evans’ spirit, especially on the piece Flamenco Sketches, which was a piece that Evans contributed to the original session. Dagradi was on fire, playing John Coltrane’s parts with precision, and soloing with high energy and even a good sense of humor, interacting with the rhythm section in a way that had the whole band tuned in to his ideas, ready to respond. Jamelle Williams was the standout performer of the set, however, playing muted trumpet with a sound that matched Miles’ original tone beautifully, and also improvising his own brilliant ideas when it was his turn to solo.

Brian Blade took the stage to an audience that was warmed up and ready to hear his creative and innovative set of original music. Before they played a note, Brian went to the microphone on the side of the stage and let everyone know how thrilled he was to be back in New Orleans, and thanked some of the educators and musicians in the audience that helped him along in the beginning of his musical journey. He thanked Ellis Marsalis, Steve Masakowski and a few others in the theater.

Jon Cowherd sat down at the piano, Melvin Butler got ready to play the tenor saxophone, Roland Guerin came back out to play his acoustic bass with Blade’s group, and Myron Walden, with his very crazy looking hair style and dark sunglasses, brought out his bass clarinet and alto sax to play with the group. Blade sat down behind the drum kit and they began to play. The music was multi dimensional, taking the listener through a roller coaster ride of emotions and feelings. The first piece began with a piano intro that set up a beautiful melody in three-four time. There was a pause in the music where the audience was not sure if it was over or not, and then the band started up again to open up the music for the soloists. As the soloists one by one played through their ideas, Blade supported them and spurred them on with his incredibly soft yet very intense touch. Blade can be explosive as well, but saved that sort of playing for the key moments in the music where that would be most effective.

At one point, Blade hit the ride cymbal so hard that the stand actually came apart, and he had to put it back together with one hand, while still playing. It was pretty amazing, and there was not a second where you could hear an error. Blade is that good. Even one handed, trying to fix a cymbal stand, he still sounds great. Myron Walden’s bass clarinet playing was amazing, and he had a sound and the ability to express himself on it that is better that anyone else that I have ever heard play the instrument. Blade’s concept is phenomenal, which is why so many greats like Joni Mitchell, Seal, Bob Dylan, and Daniel Lanois have made use of Blade’s prodigious talent. His original music is beautiful and emotional, and the next time he is in town, do yourself a favor and check him out. 

Kevin O’Day
March 10, 2009