Reviews Press Stories
Review Jack and Howard Alden at Glen Rock
By Zan Stewart
Howard Alden and Jack Wilkins are jazz heavyweights. All they need is their instruments and a pleasant place to play and they create musical magic.
The Manhattan-based guitarists, who have been offering occasional duo performances for about three years, were spectacular during their second set Thursday in the cozy dining room at Glen Rock Inn in Glen Rock, enrapturing a packed house with their bountiful gifts. The affair, produced by Shelly Rosenberg for owner Victor Quinn, was part of an on-going five year series at the restaurant and lounge.
The two jazz vets play custom-designed Bob Benedetto arch-top guitars (Alden’s is dark brown with hues of red, Wilkins has a pale, golden color) have distinctive approaches and sounds, but they share several aspects. They both are technical demons, they deliver rich melody at any tempo, they swing like mad, and they have a remarkable ability to anticipate what the other will do finding the perfect response in an instant.
On a six-song set, the pair constantly swapped lead roles, one playing the melody of a tune or soloing, the other accompanying with chords or walking bass lines. The opening Autumn Leaves/Cry Me a River medley was characteristic of their compelling program.
The guitarists each played parts of the Leaves theme, with the other accompanying. Wilkins soloed first, playing passages of alluring melody and some vibrant chords as well, all with a warm, sometimes dusky sound. With him, Alden played walking bass notes that sometimes segued into a natty line to end a section.
When Alden soloed, laying out ideas song-like, Wilkins comped with hearty chords, recalling the great Freddie Green with Count Basie. Alden’s sound had a ring to it, and when he held notes, they gleamed. At one point, Wilkins shifted to walking lines, and Alden played some beautiful chords as melody. Throughout it all, the familiar theme was never far away.
As the medium fast rendition closed, Wilkins played hints of the ballad Cry Me a River and without as much as a nod, the pair went right into it. Key, rhythm, melody all were on the money. As they each took turns with the theme, the way their lines dovetailed, and one picking up where the other left off, was enthralling.
In one solo spot, Wilkins scored with speedy squibs of tonal color and held notes that sounded like they were melting. Alden backed him with chunky, engaging chords. Warm applause followed the medley, and greeted each subsequent exposition.
The fast How About You? found both men playing swing and bop-bent lines with remarkable fluidity and hefty rhythm. At the close, they soloed simultaneously, at one point delivering sequences of dancing chords.
The evocative bossa Estate featured Wilkins with sweet lines and bluesy remarks. Alden dazzled with ringing harmonics, where he grabbed four notes with his left hand and tapped high on the fret board with his right, a la Tal Farlow. The artists closed the piece cleverly with bits of Monk’s angular Friday the 13th.
Also heard were Bill Evans winsome waltz, Very Early, and a bullet-train ride through Tico Tico.
Upcoming performances, all by guitarists unless noted, include Dr. Frank Forte, Thursday; Lou Pallo and saxophonist Muzzy Napadano, Apr. 6; Roni Ben-Hur and bassist Earl May, Apr. 13; Wilkins and Sheryl Bailey, Apr. 20; and Dave Stryker and Jim DeAngelis, Apr. 27.