"If more drummers played like Kevin," Doug Little said from the Artists' Quarter stage during his quartet's CD-release party, "jazz would be a lot different in a better way." Seconded. During the group's first set this past Saturday, a living-in-the-moment Kevin Washington spurred his compatriots through galloping swing, hiccupping New Orleans funk, bossa nova ballads, tango meditations, what have you. The drummer's grooves were tight, his fills and accents surprising, his solos loud and crowd-pleasing but not bombastic. Not long after Little's stage compliment, when the band played the title track from the alto saxophonist's new CD The Phoenix, Washington responded with precisely the sort of pugilistic solo that striking NWA mechanics would want to hear right about now. Pianist Mary Louise Knutson's soulful chords and melodic blues playing suited the leader's sometimes Cannonball Adderly-esque compositions, and bassist Jeff Bailey was creative and responsive. Little, formerly with the Motion Poets, writes tuneful, harmonically fertile compositions that give musicians enough to sink into and listeners enough to grab hold of. He isn't, alas, always above sentimentality. One of the set's ballads, "Reminiscence," verged on the lugubrious. But his playing is sensitive, his tone dusky. All around, very good straight-ahead jazz. Unfortunately, the quartet has no gigs coming up at present, but Little will return to the AQ in late September with his Latin jazz group Seven Steps to Havana.
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