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Review: Avenue Indy Quintet celebrates their anniversary

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They can sound like a big swing band, reconfigure into a trio or quartet, and deliver a symphonic moment. What they don’t do is spin off into extended solos or take the long road home to the initial melody having gotten off at the wrong freeway exit. Rather, this is the Blue Roads edition of jazz in the hometown where playing a dozen tunes — not a mere three or four —- in a set was the norm.

Marking their first anniversary at the Jazz Kitchen on June 3, trumpet-flugelhorn player Jeff Conrad, saxophonist Rich Cohen and pianist Gary Potter are the original three members. Joining them are bassist Jesse Wittman and drummer Larry Sauer.

Rich Cohen’s arrangements were featured June 10, 2014 at their Jazz Kitchen debut. On June 3, 2015 Jeff Conrad’s arrangements filled the three–set program, 7-10 p.m. The initial philosophy remains, said Conrad, during a quick conversation between sets. “We’ll do 12 tunes during a 70-minute set, each at about five minutes, for the sake of variety,” and then he quips, “So if you decide you don’t like a tune, you only have to wait another three minutes for one you might like. You don’t have to stew through a quarter hour.”

“The casual listener” remains the focus audience for Avenue Indy. I asked Conrad what pleased him most about Avenue Indy’s first year. “That the band likes the music so much; that the audience likes the music so much. You write music, you write arrangements in a vacuum. It has to be heard to gain acceptance.”

The quintet’s quiet, restrained rendition of “Wonderful World” sums up their reason for playing. “We’re not teaching,” said Conrad last year, “Our goal is to engage our listeners and keep the music interesting and accessible to them, not to "educate" them.”

Avenue Indy plays classic jazz with a variety of styles, tempos, moods, emotional tugs and definitely a mixture of well-known and not-so-well-known tunes. The 9:30 set opened with “Nutville." This galloping blues, mambo, jazz hybrid perked me up — I could not remember who wrote it. Same with “The Preacher” that closed the 7:30 set. I went home to learn about composer Horace Silver. No one told me to — it came organically.

The surprise of the evening was “Yat’s Blues,” a new tune by Conrad that calls out to be heard again.

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