Jazz Live, the flagship concert program of KSDS Jazz 88, continued their series in fine fashion on March 8 with an appearance by bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux, who fronted a quartet featuring drummer Matt Witek, guitarist Graham Dechter and veteran saxophonist Roger Neumann.
Thiroux’s debut album as a leader, "Introducing KatieThiroux," made numerous best-of lists last year, so her show generated considerable buzz and a justifiably packed house in the Saville Theatre.
Kicking off the evening with a solo chorus, singing and playing the bass through “Don’t Be on the Outside,” Thiroux consistently displayed expertise in so-called old-school performance values with a protean, woody pulse, solid intonation and subtle phrasing. Dechter is a master accompanist with ultra-smooth voicings and intricate single-lines while Neumann kept a blues aesthetic at a constant boil with growling lines in the tradition of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster.
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Witek’s keen brushwork animated “I’m Old Fashioned” in an arrangement that capitalized on Neumann’s loquacious vibrato and Dechter’s lithe chord melody as well as the leader’s unamplified, natural sound -- which can take your breath away.
That sound reached a zenith with Thiroux’s show-stopping solo variations on “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” followed immediately by a trio version of “Ray’s Kicks,” both dedicated to the spirit of bass icon Ray Brown, an obvious influence. Dechter delivered a super-hip cadenza to close the tune out, leaning heavily on the sound of moving diminished chords.
My favorite moments occurred on the seldom-heard Oscar Pettiford bebop classic “Tricotism,” delivered in arresting unison with Dechter -- which also birthed an amazing, explosive solo from Witek -- and on Thiroux’s sweet, clear distillation of “There’s a Small Hotel,” which could not have swung any harder.
Thiroux closed out the evening with a nod to Duke Ellington on “Just Squeeze Me,” with a brilliant scat solo bookended by Neumann’s rough-hewn carving through the changes.
Thiroux’s career is clearly on the upswing, so this might be the last time a small program like Jazz Live will be able to afford bringing her down from her hometown of LA. So for now, we’ll just have to be grateful that the folks at Jazz 88 were hip enough to grab her while she was still available.