The popular outdoors Jazz @ The Pond series returns for the fifth year in downtown Brighton's Mill Pond gazebo (on Main Street). Opening the 2017 series is Sean Dobbins & The Modern Jazz Messengers.
Southeastern Michigan jazz drummer Sean Dobbins has been the most active sideman on the local scene during the first decade of the new millennium for good reason. A facile, limber, inventive, and playful musician who adds extreme value to any band, his happy persona and zest for life easily translate into every performance. Stepping away from his duties with the mainstream jazz combo Urban Transport, Dobbins and this quintet take their Modern Jazz Messengers name seriously, in tribute to Art Blakey and the Blue Note hard and post-bop musicians of the '60s who have influenced at least three generations of jazz lovers. Those three age brackets of players are represented here, with baby boomer bassist Marion Hayden, '80s wunderkind vibraphonist Robert Pipho, and Gen-Xers Dobbins, pianist Steve Richko, and alto saxophonist Dean Moore. All are impressive musicians -- collectively and individually. From the Blakey repertoire are Wayne Shorter numbers -- the bouncy shuffle groove "One by One," a unique 3/4 modal Latin treatment of "Lester Left Town" featuring Pipho on the marimba, and the jumpy staccato-accented hard bopper "Ping Pong." Moore is clearly the standout, as his alto sax sound reflects Kenny Garrett in some respects, but you hear a distinctiveness developing. He's one to watch. There are several other tracks not readily associated with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, like standard takes of Cedar Walton's "Bolivia," Tom Harrell's "Sail Away," and Clare Fischer's "Pensativa." Chick Corea's "Humpty Dumpty" has the most intriguing arrangement, with Hayden's bass leading, Moore's alto following, and Pipho on the second chorus before all join in. The lone original is the title cut, written by Dobbins, a spirited waltz feature for Moore. A competent and credible effort, if not all that original, it's a well-conceived and thoughtful recording of a combo that hopefully will do more, stretch the parameters, and expand its repertoire within Blakey's purview or not.