Predictably, the popular Northwest Jazz Collective drew record-breaking crowds to Everett, WA’s Anchor Pub for their first gig tonight, September 28. So many fans and curious onlookers streamed in, until there was definite overflow onto the sidewalks out front by the time the first set ended. But then, this is what happens wherever the Collective downbeats.
Drawn together in 2003 by shared musical interests, friendship, and their weekend gig as a church worship band, band leader Chuck Hickman (sax), guitarist Mike McGee, bassist Marc Miller, pianist Ed Weber, and rotating drummers Brad Boal, Ken French, and Bryon Atterberry decided to extend their Collective to the secular world. Equipped with the musical versatility and chops of in-demand side men and session players, these guys – with Hickman’s wife Kathleen on vocals – hit the ground running and haven’t really stopped entertaining the masses…
… until their regular hot spot, Everett’s gumbo capital—Alligator Soul—shut down December 10, 2010. They’ve since found, hopefully, a new musical hang in a 104-year-old flat iron building near the edge of the waterfront. If their first Anchor Pub gig tonight is any indication, the Collective will be back.
Tonight, the Collective welcomed guest trumpeters Gary Evans and Jackson Rice, with Nearly Dan’s Bryon Atterberry on rotation as the drummer. Evans is a former Everett High School band director, music teacher, and musician who’s played with Maynard Ferguson, the Mills Brothers, the Ted Weems Orchestra, and the Seahawks Band. Rice is a musician and composer who also plays piano (he was doing sound last time I checked, too).
A huge part of the band’s appeal is their high comfort level—with each other (they’re friends, after all) and with the audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re a colleague, or someone off the street drawn in by the rockin’ music, someone from the band will come over in between sets or songs to chat you up, thank you for coming, and make you feel glad you did. Or, they’ll do it all onstage, cracking each other up like it’s another Sunday afternoon, post-church service in front of a potluck barbecue—except with sheet music, microphones, amps, and a fun job to do.
Another part of the band’s appeal is their thick songbook. They may be billed as a Jazz Collective, but these guys can do much more than that. During the first, typical set, from 6 p.m. to about 7:20 p.m., they went from jazz-fusion (Brian Bromberg’s “Leisure Suit”), and adult contemporary (Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”), to a pop and jazz standard (a Kurt Elling arrangement of “Nature Boy”), and Pat Metheny light-jazz (“James”), even some honky-tonk blues c/o trumpet player and vocalist Gary Evans – who’s responsible for more success stories under his musical tutelage in the Northwest than just about anybody else.
Anyone can cover songs. Cover bands are a dime a dozen. But this is the Northwest Jazz Collective, the sum total of which equals master artists who can interpret songs in a million and one different ways, never sounding the same, but always coming out with the same essential feel.
Metheny’s “James,” a band favorite, may seem smoother than smooth, smooth over jazz. But in the Collective’s capable, restlessly creative hands, and especially Mike McGee’s richly toned, rock-studded guitar playing, “James” is less smooth, more curvaceous. Subsequent solos from the other musicians fulfill that imperative nicely, reconfiguring harmonics in a more jazz straightforward manner than letting the smooth slide.
Kathleen Hickman’s sweet soprano bordering on alto belies an innate ability to recognize and express tension, differentiating “Nature Boy” from all the rest. She used a winsome but not too earnest scatting technique in the dramatic finish, keeping up and matching the cascading urgency of keyboardist Ed Weber in his Latin-torched solos with hers, without losing her place in the much faster-paced, up tempo Kurt Elling version. It translated into a cheerier, edgier, more carefree version (thumbs up) than the original’s plodding, sinister balladry.
With this band, anything can happen and usually does. In the middle of the first set, Chuck Hickman’s sax fell off the stage and dented, requiring an emergency run back home mere minutes away for a replacement. Not to worry. The other band members plus guest stars filled in seamlessly.
The only drawback for this reviewer was, I had to head back home in a hurry – school night for mom – and missed more of Hickman’s soulful sax, possibly a rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight.”
Oh well, next time. For sure.