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Zorn’s Prickly Harmony

Joe Lovano

For 34 years, Dr. Nathan Davis, the director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh, has annually invited a group of fellow jazz musicians to his school for a four-day series of seminars, capped off with a concert. Free to the public, these seminars might cover topics have ranged from homage to Dizzy Gillespie to treatises on improvisation by Tommy Flanagan or James Moody.

The Saturday evening concert evokes the blowing session atmosphere of Jazz at the Philharmonic–with an afternoon rehearsal and elaborate arrangements substituting for the grandstanding and fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants feeling of the early show. This year Davis (on soprano and tenor saxophone) shared the stage with fellow tenor Joe Lovano, alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, trumpeters Lew Soloff and Oscar Brashear, guitarist Mark Whitfield, pianist Patrice Rushen, bassist George Mraz and drummer Idris Muhammed. Nearly all members of the group are repeat visitors, most notably Muhammed, who seems to drop by every couple of years. Likewise, the two-set program followed a similar path of past performances: a few ensemble numbers, a ballad medley to showcase individual soloists and a return of the full band for a set-ending barnburner. Nevertheless, the rapport among the nine players resulted in a sound that sounded like a long-standing unit.

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