The jazz room at Bel-Air’s Rocco Ristorante on Saturday night had the intimate feeling of a New York bebop club in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
There were differences, of course. The haze of cigarette smoke was gone, and the clatter of glasses and the ring of the cash register were virtually nonexistent. But the room’s unusual setup--with its angled, multiple-bar seating and the close presence of the musicians--recalled the close interfacing between musicians and audience typical of Manhattan’s fabled jazz clubs of the mid-century.
The impression was enhanced by the performance of the Sal Marquez Quintet. Trumpeter Marquez, perhaps most visible during his tenure with Branford Marsalis’ band on “The Tonight Show” a few years ago, is a dedicated bopper. Obviously influenced by Miles Davis, he nonetheless has transformed the Davis elements into a mature style of his own. Playing a program of familiar standards--"Bye, Bye Blackbird,” “Alone Together” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily” among them--Marquez varied his thoughtful soloing between wispy, Harmon-muted sounds and the more brassy, straightforward textures of his un-muted instrument.
Marquez’s band, in addition to offering solid support for the leader’s upfront work, generated some outstanding soloing of its own. Chris Potter, on tenor saxophone, cruised smoothly through “If I Were a Bell,” fashioning its harmonies into a set of choruses that managed the unusual accomplishment of finding melodic riches within a style dominated by arpeggios.
On keyboards, Mitch Forman nearly stole the evening via one brilliant chorus after another, balancing the soaring lyricism of his melodic lines with irresistible, rhythm-driven chording. Bassist Dave Carpenter, as always, was as articulate with his high-note soloing as he was solid with his section-supporting accompaniments. And John Guerin, despite a tendency toward a too-clattery sound, kept the music, appropriately, within the universe of bebop.