Rush to the store to get John Adams's latest, Fly By Night.
Rush to the store to get John Adams's latest, Fly By Night.

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John Adams

Fly By Night

Congruent Music

As Dave Oliphant points out in his 1996 book Texan Jazz, the Lone Star State's jazz legacy is rich but often overlooked, perhaps because it has never been concentrated in a single city. However, as one might expect, many of its finest players have come from (or at some point been based in) the Dallas or Houston metropolitan areas. Fly By Night, the latest CD by bassist and quartet leader John Adams, offers a tight ensemble performance by some of the finest contemporary instrumentalists from both cities. The result: a thoroughly satisfying collection of eight tracks, four originals and four standards, showcasing each band member's talent as both accompanist and soloist.

Recorded live over two nights (in March 1999) at Ovations, a now defunct Houston venue known for intimate musical performance, the disc is a toast to the tasteful beauty of small-group acoustic jazz. "It's definitely not avant-garde," says Adams in a telephone interview. "You might call it mainstream, but it's not like it's all swinging."

Indeed, it's intelligently melodic, straight-ahead music that blends Adams's deft work on upright bass with consistently brilliant contributions from pianist Joe LoCascio, trumpeter Dennis Dotson and drummer Ed Soph. Additionally, on the Adams composition "Dues and Don'ts" as well as the LoCascio-penned closer, "In the Madness of My Being There," Warren Sneed of Houston appears as guest tenor saxophone soloist.

Adams is a product of the prestigious Jazz Studies program at the University of North Texas, where he also served as music professor for a decade. A respected sideman, Adams toured with Woody Herman in the early '80s and has backed distinguished vocalists (such as Mel Tormé and Rosemary Clooney) and an impressive list of instrumental stars (including Chet Baker, Clark Terry and Randy Brecker).

Since leaving academia, Adams has expanded his performance career, playing in several Texas bands and leading his own trios and quartets. A session musician on many recordings (including Houston-based LoCascio's excellent Charmed Life), Adams debuted as a composer and bandleader on his previous release for Congruent Music, the studio-recorded Jump Shot.

Fly By Night, the follow-up, succeeds as a live recording where others sometimes fail. That is, it communicates the comfortable feel of an actual working band, disciplined musicians who understand that spontaneity and interaction, both within the group and with the audience, are essential.

On the lively title track, another Adams original, lead trumpet crisply states the major melodic phrases then explores a range of harmonic possibilities, each evoking an elegantly nimble piano solo in response. The clarity of the recording is superb, revealing sophisticated patterns and licks on bass and drums beneath. While the onlookers at Ovations maintain a respectful silence until song's end, the room's warm ambience and a palpable sense of breath-holding excitement come through on the recording.

But this potently live CD is not an attempt to re-create the sense of a "show" with a sequence of tracks suggesting a beginning, middle and end to a night's performance. Instead, it is a composition of eight separate jazz moments, each complete in and of itself.

"It's a compilation of what we felt was the best from the two nights of recording," says Adams. "We didn't do the same sets each night either, so in some cases what you're hearing is the one and only take of the tune. In other cases, we had two takes to choose from." In the end, Adams, with consultation from LoCascio, selected the preferred cuts and simply arranged them into a good album, live or not.

Offering a balance of choice covers (such as a 12-minute-plus meditation on "Stella in Starlight") and several well-crafted new tunes, Fly By Night is a classy, intimate document of modern acoustic Texas jazz at its best.

John Adams will perform with Joe LoCascio, Warren Sneed and Tim Solook on Wednesday, October 20, at Sambuca Jazz Cafe, 900 Texas. Call (713)224-5299 for information.


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