George Graham didn't take any solos at downtown Los Angeles' Grand Avenue Bar on Monday night, but--for the first set, at least--he was the most valuable musician on stage.
When freeway gridlock delayed two of the trumpet players in the Tom Kubis big band, lead trumpeter Graham suddenly found himself leading a two-man, rather than the usual four-man, section. Without blinking an eye (or tightening his lip) Graham steamed ahead on Kubis' powerful charts, firing out impassioned high-note trumpet lines. Except for a few odd closing notes here and there, Graham's playing masterfully compensated for the other missing parts.
Kubis, a veteran tenor saxophonist, composer and teacher at Golden West College in Huntington Beach, has been working his band mostly in the Orange County area with a rotating group of personnel. His charts--which frequently use standard chord changes and playful name variations ("Purple Porpoise Parkway" for "Green Dolphin Street" is a good example)--are crisp and swinging. Written from a horn player's point of view, they flow with tremendous urgency and drive.
The highlight of the opening set was a romping excursion through Kubis' "Samba Dees Godda Do It," with wildly exploratory solos by Clay Jenkins on trumpet and Mike Fahn on trombone. Typically, the soloists were energized by the surging ensemble passages of Kubis' arrangement, which--as in all his charts--superbly linked written passages with improvised solos.
Almost as good was a ballad, "Just a Pretty Little Thing," with a thoughtful fluegelhorn solo by Dan McGurn, and the hard-driving (and whimsically titled) "Exactly Like This."
By this time, the trumpet section had filled out, and Graham's stalwart lead work had saved the evening. It was to his credit, as well as to the finely crafted Kubis arrangements, that a potentially problematic situation turned out to be one more example of the way in which good music, and good jazz, can prevail.