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Jazz Reviews : Don Randi and Friends

Listening to Don Randi perform at the Baked Potato is a lot like spending a pleasant evening among friends. And why not? The restaurant is not a lot larger than a generous-sized family room, and Randi, working in his own arena, has the relaxed and easy air of a performer happy to share his love of music with everyone.

The room was full, but not too full, on Friday night; the audience was in complete sync with the music; and Randi was offering up a holiday package overflowing with good vibes.

The two most significant elements in Randi’s music--a convincingly energetic passion for Latin rhythms and an equally vibrant fascination with the blues--were in full evidence. Opening with a grooving samba, he moved quickly into a Spanish saeta- like piece, juxtaposing wild flashes of melodic cover over a relentlessly building undercurrent of rhythm.

Sonny Rollins’ classic “St. Thomas” featured Randi playing steel drum samples on one of his electronic keyboards, and a hard-driving montuna was brightened by the twists and turns of a boppish melody line.

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Shifting gears all over the place, Randi also included a moody examination of Pink Floyd’s “Terminal Frost,” a funky, boogie-blues “Baked Potato Shuffle” and a singalong version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

To his credit, Randi has always used young performers in his bands, and the current group is no exception. Drummer Mark Converse and percussionist Lee Ann Harris interacted with great skill, laying down an effective carpet of sound for the pianist’s Latin pieces. Saxophonist Chuck Camper played well, especially on the blues, and guitarist Chris Field had the sound and substance of a performer with a promising future. Jim Donnegan, filling in for Randi’s regular bassist, was understandably a bit cautious.

But the night belonged to Randi, as do most nights at the Baked Potato. Seated magisterially behind his keyboards, he was clearly the group’s flash point--the voltage generator for yet another night of exciting jazz in one of the area’s most easygoing listening environments.


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