Making their only West Coast appearance as part of Jazz Pilgrimage ’96 with saxophonist Ernie Watts and singer Carmen Lundy, the All-Stars’ trouble started with the compositions. Each band member was represented as a songwriter, though bassist Essiet Essiet’s “Splash” was the single tune requiring precision to showcase the group as a whole and escape the soloing regiment of piano-sax-sax-trumpet.
Rest of the evening was spent in a midtempo malaise that seemingly shifted — even midsong — to suit the textures of the soloist.
Each performer took well to the spotlight, providing ample reason to see each as a headliner. Javon Jackson, on tenor, is a melodicist at heart with a depth of tone that harks back to Coleman Hawkins yet takes thoroughly modern twists and turns without unnecessary squawking. Altoist Greg Osby’s playing is more burnished, and he possesses a deft ability to adjust hues. Unfortunately, he left at home his generally edgy style. Pianist Kevin Hays plays a steady stream of soft chords, bringing an introspective edge to a style that generally has the subtlety of a hammer and nail.
Drummer Bill Stewart, who may well have had the most fans in the audience, generated tremendous energy swirls out of his small kit that Essiet glided alongside with ease and moderate funkiness. Were the leaders, particularly the trumpeter Tim Hagans, to plug into some of that spunk, the band might be making some vital noise.