Don’t take it from us. Others much more in the know said it first.
Take the late alto saxophonist Frank Morgan, who relocated to New Mexico from the East in his later years. John Trentacosta and Straight Up were his preferred rhythm section here. “An astounding jazz group deserving greater recognition,” said Morgan.
Take it from the late Herbie Mann, jazz flute luminary, who said, “As good as anything I hear coming out of New York. ... players are excellent and the music swings.”
Formed in 1994 as a trio by drummer Trentacosta, Straight Up has evolved into a quintet that also features multiwoodwind maestro Arlen Asher, pianist Brian Bennett and bassist Michael Olivola, with the trumpet chair held by a series of guests—this week, it’s Albuquerque’s own award-winning Bobby Shew.
The group plays in the style of the great Cannonball Adderley, Hank Mobley and Horace Silver quintets. “The two horns play mostly in unison on the heads, with some harmony things here and there, with the two horns being the featured soloists usually,” says Trentacosta, who also hosts “The Bopera House” on Santa Fe’s KSFR 101.1 FM on Fridays at 1 p.m.
Though the rhythm section of Straight Up has often backed Shew, this appearance will feature Shew as the group’s guest, and the dynamics will be different.
“The quintet is different in that it’s an already established sound and feel and direction,” says Trentacosta. “I decided the best way to do it is to acknowledge Bobby for who he is, and I know that he has a really good quintet book. I said, ‘Well, we’ll split it.’ So half of it will be his stuff, and half of it will be ours.”
From his book, Shew has chosen two Gigi Gryce tunes, “Social Call” and “Minority,” and Denzil Best’s “We.” He’ll also choose a ballad that’ll feature him.
From the Straight Up book, Trentacosta has chosen Ralph Moore’s “Hopscotch” and Sonny Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle,” which is built on “I Got Rhythm” changes. Asher, too, will select a ballad for his feature. They’ll also play “When Robby Gets Blue,” a minor blues from Bob Fox, Straight Up’s original pianist, who still works with Trentacosta on material for the group.
“I consider him the musical director because without him, I don’t think there would be a group,” says Trentacosta.
What all the pieces will have in common is a straight-ahead feel that prizes swing and lyricism.