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Jazz artists offer diversity of sound

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RUSSELL MALONE, CHRIS POTTER and CLAUDIA ACUNA, Jazz at the Sheraton Series, Monday evening, Sept. 10; one performance only.

Anyone who thinks all jazz sounds the same would certainly change their tune after Monday's concert at the Jazz at the Sheraton Series.

For starters, none of the three headliners — Chris Potter, Russell Malone or Claudia Acuna — leaned too heavily on any one of the "traditional" jazz styles, like bebop, old-time crooners, swing, funk, etc. Add to that the fact that all three had a distinctive style, all different from each other.

Kevin Hays, pianist for the Chris Potter quartet, set the tone for the evening with the introduction to the opening tune, "High Noon," when he reached into the piano and plucked harmonics on the piano strings. If he had stopped there, one would have thought it was a carefully constructed 20th-century classical piece — right through the opening bars when the band joined in. As the tune progressed, it developed a hard, driving sound that was harmonically and melodically challenging, infused with almost a "punk jazz" sound.

This edgy, driving sound turned out to be Potter's "thumbprint." All of his charts incorporated most or all of these elements, although some tunes leaned more toward a "straight-ahead" jazz style. Even when he played with the other performers on ballads, his solos would inevitably include elements of this complexity.

Russell Malone took the stage next with one of his original tunes, "Mug Shot." Malone also revealed his basic style in this first number, although he did save some surprises for later. Malone proved himself an eclectic player, well-versed in just about every guitar style and armed with a formidable knowledge of guitar history. "Mug Shot" tied together many diverse elements, from early jazz guitar styles to edgy, progressive jazz (similar to Potter's), and a lot of stuff in between. He followed with a beautiful, intelligently crafted ballad medley on solo guitar (no backup) of the BeeGee's "How Deep Is Your Love" and Lerner and Lowe's "Heather on the Hill" from the musical "Brigadoon."

Claudia Acuna followed with a sultry, introspective "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered." Soft, warm and strong, her alto voice was never heavy on low notes and always perfectly controlled — from the intentional breathiness to the even, smooth, (mostly) non-vibrato sound. The Latin rhythms at the end of that song and the Spanish "Maria, Maria" that followed brought in some nice Latin flavor — appropriate, since Acuna is originally from Chile.

Following intermission, all three performers performed a set again.

As individuals, all three performers are artists in their own right. But when they joined together as a group (either in pairs or all three), they lacked that cohesive energy that binds the soul of the music together — and sometimes even a cohesive sound (like when Potter would leave off unexpectedly in the middle of phrases during Malone's "Mug Shot").

E-mail: rcline@desnews.com