Clare Fischer's skills are so diverse--from jazz pianist and Latin music specialist to orchestrator and vocal arranger--that his performances always retain the promise of creative surprise.
Saturday night at Le Cafe, playing a program of mostly original pieces, Fischer made full delivery on the promise.
Opening with a crisp, Latin-rhythm reading of Gerry Mulligan's classic, "Bernie's Tune," he moved--at full speed--into the flowingly chromatic right-hand lines that are among his musical trademarks. At times reminiscent of Lennie Tristano's coolly precise, turn-the-beat-around metric magic, Fischer's improvisations had the added, and vital, element of warmth and passion.
Two other pieces--"Gaviota" (with a lovely soprano saxophone solo from Dick Mitchell) and "Guarabe"--illustrated how effective Fischer has been in creating a smooth-flowing, organic connection between jazz spontaneity and Latin rhythmic energy.
The second half of the program featured Fischer's gifted vocal quartet--Mary Hylan, soprano; Angie Jaree, alto; Gary Jones, tenor; John Laird, baritone. Singing with humor and energy on such brightly melodic works as "Free Fall," "Morning" and "Tom Cat," the quartet peaked musically on Fischer's gorgeously harmonized arrangement of "The Night We Called It a Day" and a lovely, Spanish language song by Fischer and Barbara Ransom titled "Donde."
Hampered somewhat by the sound system, the quartet's blend was not as ringing as it has been in past performances. But their ability to work past the technical problems and bring Fischer's often demanding music to full-blooded life was convincing evidence that this is one of the finest vocal ensembles active in today's jazz.
The rhythm section--with drummer Bernie Dresel and conga player Billy Hulting subbing for Fischer's regulars--was firm and steady, in part because of the rock solid foundation provided by his bassist son, Brent Fischer.