Few pairings are more complementary than that of clarinetist Buddy DeFranco and vibraphonist Terry Gibbs. DeFranco's round, open tones mesh with Gibbs' ringing sounds in a blend that, to quote the old song, goes together like love and marriage.
Their solid musical relationship was on display Friday at the Hyatt Newporter as part of the "Jazz at the Hyatt" series sponsored by the hotel and Long Beach radio station KLON-FM. The men, known for bringing their respective instruments out of the swing era and into the heady days of be-bop, demonstrated their virtuosity as well as a musical empathy that reflected the 10 years they've been a team.
A typical tune from their first set Friday began with the pair stating the theme in that savory unison blend before embarking on individual solos. The two would then close out the number together, chasing each other around the melody, echoing each other's lines or adding subtle variations in a way that suggested that they could read each other's minds.
Combined with fine support from pianist Frank Collett, bassist Monty Budwig and drummer Gerry Gibbs (the vibraphonist's son), the duo brought some heat to the cool twilight air at the hotel's outdoor amphitheater.
The group opened with a pair of tunes from guitarist Charlie Christian (himself a be-bop pioneer on his instrument). The first was an up-tempo "Seven Come Eleven," a composition that Christian wrote with Benny Goodman. It followed the formula that found DeFranco and Gibbs swinging hard during their shared moments. The vibraphonist turned the more moderately paced "Soft Winds" into a searing technical display with the kind of long, nonstop lines that Charlie Parker himself might have admired.
DeFranco was featured on Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now," his clarinet molding the warm ballad into a cool personal statement. Gibbs' also chose a ballad for his feature vehicle, the Tommy Dorsey theme song "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You." The vibist, playing with more reserve than earlier in the set, worked his instrument's small dynamic range to advantage before winding down with unison tones spread an octave apart.
The evening's sizzler was Gibbs' own "Bopstacle Course," a challenging theme that led to some of DeFranco's most heated moments. Drummer Gibbs took a solo during the piece that started out with some snappy rim chatter, moved into some stirring brush work, then closed with some hectic cowbell play.
Collett's dense accompaniment meshed well with Gibbs' sparer comping on the vibes. The pianist packed his solos with quick-stepping runs and chordal play. Bassist Budwig walked with a lively bounce, but seemed overly reserved during his brief "Seven Come Eleven" theme.