Live Last Night: Roy Ayers

"This band is ridiculous!" said veteran jazz and R&B vibraphonist Roy Ayers at Blues Alley on Thursday night, long before some of the most ridiculously playful funk surfaced -- and there was no shortage of that.

Drummer Lee Pearson feverishly soloed with a towel draped over his face, splintering the beat with one stick while balancing the other on the top his head. Saxophonist Ray Gaskins went rogue on "A Night In Tunisia," quoting from several pop tunes during an improvisation that ultimately had the audience singing along to "My Favorite Things."

Ayers, engaging as ever, sometimes used electronic gadgetry to alter the sound of his instrument for cartoonish purposes. At one point, Gaskins, who also played electric keyboard and shared vocals with Ayers and singer John Presley, decided to salute Bob Marley, Ray Charles and other pop icons. The result was a briefly choreographed and thoroughly loopy interlude.

Bass guitarist Donald Nicks, celebrating his birthday, and keyboardist Mark Adams, joined in on the funk, Nicks delighting the crowd with his sly humor and slippery runs.

The hijinks didn't prevent Ayers from displaying some serious musicianship during a set that included performances of several hits -- "Searching" and "Everybody Loves The Sunshine," among others. The tunes were often punctuated by his dashing and graceful improvisations, played with two or four mallets. Gaskins was all business, too, when he uncorked an alto sax solo that had more in common with the piercing ferocity of free jazz than with Ayers' frequently sampled R&B grooves.

The engagement concludes Saturday.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  January 30, 2009; 12:45 PM ET Live Last Night
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