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Clark Terry: Herr Ober

Oh what merry romps these be: one is by land, two is by sea. All the merrier because these are live, master classes in spontaneity by a trumpeter who knows how to entertain an audience without sacrificing jazz values. Clark Terry demonstrates all the decades of his accumulated jazz tricks, licks plus humorous asides during these two gigs, nearly a year apart. The first took place at Germany’s Birdland Neuburg, in 2000, shortly after he turned 80; the second aboard the QE2 in November 1999.

Taking them chronologically, Live on QE2 captures the essence of floating jazz: bop lines and Cunard lines. It was a captive audience of 1,750, including friends of Terry who sat in: Shirley Horn, Etta Jones, Vanessa Rubin, Carrie Smith, even Oscar Peterson. As the “captain’s log” explains, the microphone was passed down to Peterson who sang “Route 66” from the audience. Great history, but an impossible mix; it was not included on the CD.

Of the guests who came on stage to work with Terry’s quintet, Etta Jones broke it up with “Fine and Mellow,” including an excellent imitation of its creator, Billie Holiday. Rubin and Terry launched into an embarrassingly sloppy “Just Squeeze Me.” The attempt to harmonize went nowhere, but when they traded fours, her scat and his “mumbles” were a swinging riot. Horn accompanied herself on “But Beautiful,” but it dragged overdramatically. The husky tones of Carrie Smith tend to wobble, but she knows how to goose a combo, as she does with “Everyday I Have the Blues.”

Terry never shuts up-but that’s no criticism. The guy’s a break-up; his comments are witty and he knows how to drive sidemen. So does the only sidewoman, drummer Sylvia Cuenca. Check the chemistry (make that alchemy) between Terry and altoist David Glasser on “Opus Ocean.”

Herr Ober means “Mister Waiter” and Terry turns the title tune into a blues in which he laments about being unable to communicate with his server in a restaurant. After that explanation (in just 12 bars), the lyrics are confined to “Herr Ober” and the crowd follows Terry’s lead as he turns it into a call-and-response blues shuffle. Terry and his fans like it so much, he repeats it later, one key higher.

While that blues stayed in a relaxed groove, Terry called tunes that many younger trumpeters could not keep up with. “Jumpin’ at the Woodside” is jet-propelled, yet he interpolates “Music, Music, Music” and alto saxophonist Dave Glasser manages to join in. Terry and Glasser are always on the same page, constantly creating riffs behind rhythm section solos. “Taking a Chance On Love” is also way up-as a fast bossa nova, inspiring pianist Don Friedman to suggest Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.” Talk about thinking fast, bassist Marcus McLaurine manages to quote from “Stranger in Paradise” during the title track.

Both CDs boast the same rhythm section.

Originally Published