The brainchild of jazz co-ordinator Clyde Bullard, and put together probably for this one concert only, the Superband is an all-female, all-star type ensemble whose members span a couple of generations. Consisting of: Lakecia Benjamin (www.lakeciabenjamin.com) - alto saxophone; Carol Sudhalter (www.sudhalter.com) - tenor saxophone & flute; Bertha Hope (www.allaboutjazz.com/php/musician.php? id=7734) - piano; Kim Clarke (http://kimclarke.8m.com) - acoustic & electric bass; Cindy Blackman (www.cindyblackman.com) - drums; and Vanessa Rubin (www.vanessarubin.com) - vocals, the group had much to offer. Yes, there were the usual weaknesses of the all-star, under-rehearsed ensemble, particularly as gender was more important than stylistic considerations when selecting the group members. But these problems were offset by the musicianship and professionalism of the artists and were not enough to spoil the enjoyment of some hot music on a cold and rainy evening!
Given their limited preparation time, the Superband members wisely elected not to attempt too many tight ensemble passages. Rather they opted in favor of creating various settings to feature individual soloists. There were some simple head arrangements, such as the opening "Pfrancing" and closing "All Blues," both Miles Davis compositions. But the first set continued with a Kim Clarke composition "Share Your Love," with Kim providing some funk on Fender bass and Carol on flute. Lakecia then stepped forward on her first feature, "Easy Living." Her promise was immediately clear; she certainly understands what the alto saxophone is all about as she tackled the ballad with a full tone, a firm vibrato, and colorful smears alternating with precise little runs on the turnarounds. (After the show she confirmed my suspicion that she has listened to Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson as much as to Adderley and McLean.) She stepped up again at the beginning of the second set, burning through her original "Ode To A Man," a freer, modal piece which gave Hope a chance to shine. Benjamin also impressed on a Blakeyish "Climax" that featured the inevitable drum solo outing from Blackman. This was reasonably impressive, although Blackman's shortcomings as a jazz player were evident when she tried to shift gears and accommodate Sudhalter's more traditional tenor style on Carol's feature "Yours Is My Heart Alone," where the drums seemed to interrupt as much as support.
And then there was Vanessa Rubin, the icing on an already satisfying cake. Her first number was a showstopper right out of the gate, "Are You Ready For Me" which also featured Sudhalter's gruff baritone. Rubin then executed a rapid shift of gears with a sensitive rendition of Carol's original "Dry," the first time it had been presented with lyrics. The composer's full-toned flute work was also featured. During the second set, Rubin showed more facets of her talent with "You're A Joy" from her forthcoming Tad Dameron collection, and a lovely "Never Let Me Go," accompanied with just Hope's sensitive keyboard work. Indeed, Hope's skill as an accompanist--along with Clarke's rock-solid bass lines--was the glue that held the Superband together.
Overall it was a good evening. Complimenting the music, the sound was well handled, the hall is comfortable and the people are friendly. Their upcoming program has something for everyone. Please go to www.flushingtownhall.org and check it out!
For more background on the Superband go to: http://myspace.com/carolsudhalter