Louis Hayes Quintet at Blue LLama

I was lucky enough to catch Louis Hayes on the second set of his first night at the Blue LLama Jazz Club in Ann Arbor on December 6. The quintet was advertised as celebrating the music of Horace Silver, but it featured very little of his repertoire.

The quintet was very impressive with a frontline of tenorist Abraham Burton and vibraphonist Steve Nelson, backed by the dynamic trio of Ann Arbor’s Rick Roe on piano, University of Michigan Professor Bob Hurst on bass, and the forever young Hayes. Hayes has reached his early 80s, but he looks and sounds like a much younger man. He is still a very smooth drummer, with a killer touch on the ride cymbal, and a knack for just the right fill on his snare behind the soloists. Hayes and Hurst are a great tandem and the terrific sound system at the LLama allowed us to separate one from the other.

It was a treat to hear Roe in this swinging yet elegant hard bop group. He has complete command of the idiomatic repertoire and treated us to several brilliant solos showcasing his fluent technique and incessant flow of ideas.
Burton was a new acquaintance for me. He has a warm sound on his tenor reaching back to the pioneers on the instrument and reminded me at times of Budd Johnson or Gene Ammons. At other times he reached forward to the sounds of hard boppers in the Coltrane mode. I think he is a young man to watch as he develops his own take on the tenor.

I have heard Steve Nelson a handful of times over the years and he still impresses me with his personal approach to the vibes. He has a unique sense of rhythm, akin to that of pianist Andrew Hill, and his melody lines can be equally complex.

Overall, it was an exciting night for fans of straight-ahead jazz. Thanks, Blue Llama, for bringing groups like this to town.