Not only did the veteran master alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson put on a whale of a jazz stint at Birdland (February 5-9, 2013, but the members of his quartet were tops in their own right. I went on the cold, snowy Friday night, but inside the renowned jazz spot the temperature was hot, and not from a heating system.
“Sweet Poppa” Donaldson has an easy manner whether he is jesting with the audience or demonstrating his genius by exploring his assorted jazz riffs on the sax. It is all in the music, not the chatter, but still, he is amusing when he twits his singing voice or introduces the number “Fast and Freaky,” but says “I hope it’s not too freaky.”
He gets into a bluesy mood when he sings “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman,” and runs through the whiskey agenda attributed to the hard-drinking gal. His voice is gruff, which makes it all the better.
In announcing that “The next number will he 'Alligator Boogaloo,’" he quips that it was a big hit in Afghanistan. “We’re gonna try it out in New York and see how it goes.” The answer: Just fine.
Donaldson is generous in sharing the spotlight with his colleagues, and well he should be. Randy Johnston is great on guitar and his solos offer infinite pleasure. Akiko Tsuruga, who hails form Osaka, Japan, is a master of the organ, and she tears into her jazz interpretations with demonic intensity, strength and creativity. Hearing her is a special treat. McClenty Hunter can hold you in his grip with a lengthy drum solo that demonstrates his virtuosity in a variety of ways.
Highlights on the night I attended also included intricate interpretations of “The Best Things in Life Are Free” and “It Could Happen to You.” At Birdland, 315 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-581-3080. Reviewed February 9, 2013.