Former San Diego bassist Danny Weller returned from NYC for a slew of local gigs, and the April 25 celebration of the music of Ella Fitzgerald at 98 Bottles was definitely one of the high points.
Weller assembled a top-flight band, including drum hero Duncan Moore, recent Philly piano transplant Jason Shattil and the soon-to-be-star vocalist Rebecca Jade for a vibrant set dominated by swinging propulsion.
Jade led off Cole Porter’s "Anything Goes," with the seldom-heard verse, then absolutely killed with her bell-like clarity and tasteful melisma. Weller steered the band with strongman lines, supporting Shattil’s fleet ornaments and laying down a soulful, meaty and creative spin of his own. Jade has full control of the whole package: On "They Can’t Take That Away From Me," she soared into rarified air with precise enunciation, phrasing and beautiful timbre --locking in with her bandmates on a groove that was solid as an oak yet as supple as a willow.
The bassist painstakingly transcribed several Fitzgerald scat solos, the first of which Jade nailed on "Take the A Train," often executed in unison with Weller with dizzying chromatic finesse.
True musicality for jazz musicians is often tested by ballads, so it was gratifying to experience the delicate touches of "Moonlight in Vermont," on which Shattil’s ebullient melodic cascades proved an excellent foil to Jade’s ache and coo.
It takes a supreme group of musicians to transform the ludicrous into the sublime. and when the band launched into "A Tisket a Tasket," (complete with instructions for an audience sing-a-long), I prepared myself to wince. I shouldn’t have bothered; Jade inhabited the corny lyrics -- somehow making it all believable -- and the trio swung their asses off, especially Moore, whose solo was an essay in explosive logistics.
Weller illuminated from below on "Too Damned Hot" with a Percy Heath-type groove, then traded a series of ecstatic "eights" with Jade while Shattil and Moore swung like Manny Ramirez at a fastball over the plate. It’s always a treat to see and hear Weller back in town, and hearing Jade in this context makes me wish she did this kind of thing more often.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.