"What a fine orchestra!" Pete Fountain enthused toward the end of his concert Friday with the Utah Symphony.
It sure is - more on that later. But let me add that this past weekend it also had a fine soloist. Or, as the newspaper ad had it, "Once again, New Orleans is sending the Jazz to Utah."In fact a couple of hours before the legendary jazz clarinetist's performance I dug out some of his old Coral tapes, dating back 30 years or more. And I can tell you that today he is playing as well or better than ever.
It's always been a darker, fatter sound than most, and that was true Friday. But at the same time it was clear that he can still burn it in, via playing of remarkable brilliance and agility.
Witness the robust Dixieland stylings he and his combo brought to "Clarinet Marmalade," the opening number on their part of the program. Or the jazzy embellishments with which he laced "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans," here seamlessly but sassily executed.
Nor were they the same from number to number. Take the sliding diminuendos that graced "Wolverine Blues," otherwise rich and raucous, or the elongated "brrrs" of "Honky Tonk," here down and dirty, with some wicked solos from trumpeter Jimmy Weber, trombonist Mike Genevay, saxophonist Tom Maggorie and, above all, drummer Brian Barboret (or as Fountain called him, as the youngest member of the group, "Dreamy Eyes").
Anchoring the rest of the rhythm section were pianist Ronnie Dupont and bassist Oliver Felix, who had a couple of memorable solos of their own.
But for the most part this was Fountain's show, especially in "My Blue Heaven" and "It Had To Be You" - a couple of great clarinet tunes - a blending of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "Amazing Grace" (here increasingly elaborate) and a medley in which he and the orchestra loped their way through such standards as "Poor Butterfly," "Moonglow," "Ain't Misbehavin" (with a snatch from "Rhapsody in Blue") and "Up a Lazy River."
Otherwise the orchestra didn't have all that much to do. However, apart from a few lapses in synchronization, they did it pretty well. But then, every time I come back to the Utah Symphony after a week or more of hearing other orchestras, they sound pretty good to me.
This time, moreover, we were all coming back to the Utah Symphony, on this first official concert of their abbreviated summer season.
I wish I could report that the hall was full. (It wasn't). But under assistant conductor Kory Katseanes, the opening number on the orchestra's part of the program, Henry Mancini's "Strings on Fire" - a Utah Symphony standby - had its customary verve and finesse, followed by Leroy Anderson's "Blue Tango," a bit more tepid in temperature.
Indeed, in the latter a slower, more sinuous tempo wouldn't have hurt. On the other hand, the Duke Ellington medley that came after sported some creamy brass in "Sophisticated Lady" and a beautifully muted trumpet solo in "Mood Indigo." Which, as I recall, used to be a Pete Fountain standby. But since he didn't stint in any other way, I won't complain that he didn't give us that too.