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John Handy Quintet: Live at Yoshi’s Nightspot

After a 28-year retirement, the 1965 John Handy Quintet with violinist Michael White, guitarist Jerry Hahn, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke, reunited for the fifth Eddie Moore Jazz Festival in 1994. As documented on the modestly titled two-CD Live at Yoshi’s Nightspot, it was everything fans of the groundbreaking group could wish for: They revived the staples of their repertoire with gusto, and proved that, individually and collectively, they hadn’t lost half a step in the intervening years.

The collection begins with a fast and furious take on “Spanish Lady,” which closed the Quintet’s legendary ’65 Monterey Jazz Festival performance and the Columbia Records document Live at Monterey. It is a faithful reprise, right down to Handy’s opening unaccompanied alto solo and White’s scrappy solo. About the only thing that’s changed is the tone of Hahn’s guitar, facilitated by electronics that had yet to be invented in the mid-’60s. The boogalooin’ “Blues for a Highstrung Guitar” receives a more expansive reading than on The 2nd John Handy Album. While Hahn simply flies, his old, clean, phase-shiftless sound is sorely missed. After a soulful turn on “Body and Soul,” the first of the program’s two standards, the first disc ends with “Dancy, Dancy,” the lithe bossa nova that opened 2nd. Of all of tunes from the old book, this is the one the band has really grown into, as it taps the players’ lyrical resources more than their stamina.

The second disc leads with “If Only I Knew,” which was titled “If Only We Knew” on the Monterey album. In addition to a lengthy, unaccompanied, blues-drenched solo by Handy, it also features an expansive solo by Don Thompson, one of the planet’s underrated bassists, before the tune heats up. At slightly over 21 minutes, this performance is succinct compared to the ’65 version, trimming nearly six minutes off the original. A spry “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” sets up a second, 20-plus minute take of “Spanish Lady.” Redundant? Sure. But, it’s a reunion. Let the guys have fun for old time’s sake.

Originally Published