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JAZZ REVIEW : Turrentine Plays at Birdland West

With his booming, golden sound front and center, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine opened a four-day stand at Birdland West in Long Beach on Wednesday doing what he’s always done best: injecting an infectious blues flavor into everything he played.

The 54-year-old Turrentine--backed to a T by a tightly knit New York-based quartet of Mark Soskin, keyboards; Dave Stryker, guitar; Scott Ambush, bass, and Mark Johnson, drums--delivered a pleasing assortment of tunes, from pop pieces such as Stevie Wonder’s “Creepin’ ” to toasty ballads--Rodgers and Hart’s “My Romance"--to out-and-out wailers such as Coltrane’s “Impressions,” taken at a demonic clip.

On each tune, Turrentine added a little something unexpected that made his solidly conceived performance more than mere high-class entertainment. He told stories, rather than just assembling catchy phrases and slapping them together.

After the quartet-sans-leader’s torrid opener, “Footprints,” Turrentine appropriately began with Zawinul’s “Birdland.” He then segued into George Benson’s “Plum,” where he offered cleanly executed up-and-down lines--most capped by his trademark tonal wails that shimmered like mirrors in the sun. He added blues nuances continually, but in a subtle--rather than obvious-- way.

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The leader played “My Romance” with just Stryker’s accompaniment, adding smidgens of melodic decoration. When the band joined in, Soskin and Stryker, two men striving for individuality, soloed with elan. The guitarist, who has a gleaming tone to match that of his boss, danced wonderfully through “Impressions,” and Soskin mixed hard-hit rolling chords with smoky funk on “Don’t Mess With Mister T.” Ambush and Johnson were the crackling bottom that kept the band on fire.

Turrentine closes Saturday.


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