Jazz Reviews : Femme Five at Biltmore

The opening tune of the Jazz Birds’ second set at the Grand Avenue Bar at the Biltmore Hotel Tuesday evening told the whole story: “Dynamite Ladies.”

The tune, an up-tempo, bopish piece composed by Walter Davis, was one of seven inclusions in an early evening set and pointed to but one of the styles this group of jazz-minded women could explore with vitality and style.

Forming the two-horn front line of the quintet were Stacy Rowles and Betty O’Hara, both established names on the male-dominated jazz scene. Rowles, whose trumpet and fluegelhorn playing reflects the influence of Clark Terry, performed superbly in each outing. So, too, did O’Hara, whose horns include cornet, valve trombone and the double-belled euphonium and whose vocal on Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life” was a gem.

The group, which featured pianist Liz Kinnon, bassist Mary Ann McSweeney and drummer Jennette Wrate, swung consistently in every outing. And each outing was made more pleasurable by the fact that the arrangements were well-conceived and thoroughly rehearsed. The Jazz Birds flew to this gig on ready wings.


Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca” provided a Latin flavor that alternated with more traditional swing sections. The alternating fields gave each soloist the opportunity to explore the tune in greater depth.

Pianist Kinnon, whose accompanying efforts were solid and whose solo moments were inspired, contributed a lovely jazz waltz, “J.J.” Wrate spurred the piece with brushes and bassist McSweeney offered one of several fine solos.

Joining the group for a couple of guest outings was violinist Karen Briggs. “Killer Joe” was a perfect solo vehicle for a compelling statement and “Elm,” a darkly moody piece by Richie Beirach, showed her ability to work in tandem with O’Hara’s cornet and Rowles’ fluegelhorn.