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Best Weekend Ever

Jefferson Jackson Steele
HOMEGROWN: The Terrell Stafford Quintet blows at the BMA.

By Geoffrey Himes | Posted 5/9/2007

Terrell Stafford

Baltimore Museum of Art, April 29

The end of April proved to be quite a weekend for jazz in Baltimore. Towson University professor Dave Ballou celebrated the release of his new Steeplechase album Insistence with a Saturday show at An die Musik. Baltimore's Lafayette Gilchrist celebrated the release of his new Hyena album 3 with Friday and Saturday shows at the New Haven Lounge. And former Marylander Terrell Stafford showcased the tunes from his recent Max Jazz album Taking Chances at the Baltimore Museum of Art Sunday.

Stafford, a trumpeter who went to high school in Silver Spring and to university in College Park, brought four-fifths of the album's quintet to the concert sponsored by the Chamber Jazz Society. As the name implies, the organization aims to present jazz in the same atmosphere that classical chamber music takes for granted: a smoke-free, drink-free, chatter-free setting with comfortable seats, good sightlines, and reliable sound.

In his dark, pinstripe suit and pencil mustache, Stafford looked like a character from a bebop movie. At 40, he's too young to have played with the hard-bop giants Art Blakey and Horace Silver, but he has played with such Blakey alumni as Bobby Watson, Benny Golson, and Cedar Walton and has thoroughly absorbed that tradition. When his quintet stretched out on a long version of "Paper Trail," drummer Dana Hall's snappy bop tune from the new disc, Hall and bassist Derrick Hodge pushed Stafford and tenor saxophonist Tim Warfield into fiercer and fiercer solos as if they were members of Blakey's Jazz Messengers.

The band was at its best, though, on ballads and blues. On the ballad standard "Old Folks," Stafford ornamented the melody by dropping below it and fluttering a few perfectly pitched notes on his muted trumpet as if making a parenthetical confession. On another standard, Vernon Duke's "Taking a Chance on Love," Stafford switched to flugelhorn and Warfield switched to soprano sax for nicely rounded phrases that alternated and eventually overlapped, as if the horns were flirters negotiating a romance.

On "Blues for J.T.," written by Stafford for his father, the quintet shook off its refined elegance and stomped out the blues. Warfield was especially impressive, as his soprano sax pushed at the beat and then pulled back on it until breaking loose on a wailing solo. The tall, bald Warfield--decked out in a blue suit patterned with a thin, pink plaid--led the way on his own tune, "Shake It for Me," where the simple blues changes were loaded up with extended harmonies by pianist Donald Vega and the two horn men.

Baltimore's jazz scene needs the classicism of the Chamber Jazz Society series just as much as it needs the avant-garde improvisation that Ballou brought to An die Musik and the funky fusion that Gilchrist brought to the Haven. It needs quiet, comfortable listening spaces like the Baltimore Museum of Art and An die Musik as much as it needs lively bars such as the Haven and Caton Castle. For one weekend, at least, the city had it all.

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