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JAZZ REVIEW : Cooper, Stewart at Alfonse’s

Bob Cooper, the tenor saxophonist, heard Friday at Alfonse’s, is an exponent of a genre that might be classified as local jazz. Most often it consists of mainstream music, performed by artists who play commercial jobs by day and indulge their creative fantasies at night.

Cooper’s long career as a studio performer has not atrophied his inventive impulses. Taking a tune like “Stella by Starlight,” which has all the surprise value of a three-piece suit, Cooper tried it on for size, tossed it away after one chorus and adopted a disguise that sublimated the familiar chord pattern with spontaneity and spirit.

It was still more rewarding to hear him deal with “Nobody Else but Me,” a Jerome Kern song with challenging harmonic contours. Next came a fast blues, with a theme in two-bar breaks, that reflected Cooper’s funk-tinged affection for the ancient 12-bar formula.

Tom Ranier on piano, Chuck Berghofer on bass and Mike Whited on drums offered impeccable support.

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Local jazz is also vocal jazz. Yvette Stewart, a truly exceptional singer with a musician’s improvisational feeling, took over for the latter part of the set. After celebrating Duke Ellington’s birthday by singing “In a Mellotone” (with totally unfamiliar lyrics), she dipped into her Dinah Washington bag with “Teach Me Tonight,” then showed her bebop passport by combining Dizzy Gillespie’s “Groovin’ High” with the song on whose chords it was based, “Whispering.”

She concluded with Jon Hendricks’ lyrics to the blues “Centerpiece,” bringing to it the same exhilarating freedom that had marked her entire performance. Compared to this very hip lady, Diane Schuur sounds like Dinah Shore. Whoever said there were no real jazz singers coming up evidently had not heard Stewart.

Cooper returns to Alfonse’s May 13.


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