Homefront Jazz

By Ninette Shorter

If you have only fleeting familiarity with either Louisville's Homefront Performances or The Louisville Jazz Society, mixing the two may seem an odd juxtaposition. But it made sense for these homegrown groups, since both have a mission to bring quality music to their members and the community. The result was an evening of two very different flavors of jazz, recorded for broadcast later this year by WFPL. Comedy Caravan in Mid-City Mall hosted the event Jan 30.

First up was local mostly-jazz quartet Walker & Kays (Greg Walker, guitar and vocals; Jeanette Kays, lead vocal; Sonny Stephens, upright bass; Bruce Murrow, drums). Their fifteen song set included Duke Ellington's "A-Train" and "Sophisticated Lady," several Latin pieces, a blues tune and an original with a slight country flair. "Two Rights Will Always Make a Wrong." The tune drawing the most visible and vocal response from the audience was a cover of Lonnie Mack's "Oreo Cookie Blues. "Scat-like vocalization accented Walker's rendition of "Lady Be Good to Me," and a light Manhattan Transfer feeling came through in the group's version of "Chattanooga Choo Choo," commissioned by the city of Chattanooga.

The foursome's performance and presence were smooth, clean, cerebral and "loungey," as they nonchalantly sailed through material that couldn't have been as easy as they made it look. Walker's guitar strokes, in particular, were finely understated and Kays' vocals and banter were pleasantly entertaining. Stephens appeared to be having the most fun, smiling. at and darn near dancing with his upright.

After Walker & Kays came Java Men, a local jazz trio. What a study in contrasts. In a very short span of time, the atmosphere was transformed from sophisticated hotel lounge to free-flowing coffee house. sans smoke and psychedelia. Java Men (Craig Wagner, guitar; Ray Rizzo. drums and percussion; Todd Hildreth, keyboards) "evolved," according to Hildreth, in the back room of Twice Told Coffeehouse, which helps explain the touch of bohemianicity in their style. Or maybe they're just natural beatniks. Their set consisted of seven original tunes, all instrumentals until the sing-along finale. Yes. A jazz sing-along. The group's intent playing demeanors belied a benign irreverence that came through in song titles and Hildreth's wry, pithy humor between songs (one piece was introduced as a "gospel-influenced lune called 'Cellophane Mary,'" and it bore no resemblance to any gospel from this homegirl's church-going days.)

Java Men's music is improvisational fusion loaded with mood and emotional energy. Every tune was harmonically and rhythmically compelling, none more so than any other, just differently. "Color of a Mirror," sweet yet portending, began with a haunting intro that evoked images of wandering through a house of mirrors in a midway. Wagner's stealth on the fretboard brought to mind Tuck Andress (Tuck and Patti), especially toward the end of "Gadzooks," yet he stood nearly motionless through the set except for flashing fingers and occasional arm movements. Rizzo's touch was sensitive and adventurous. while Hildreth's explorations on Hammond organ set most of the mood.

For membership and event information, write to Homefront Performances, Inc., P. O. Box 4782, Louisville, KY 40204-0782, or The Louisville Jazz Society, P. O. Box 4183, Louisville, KY 40204-0183.