The Duke Ellington Society 2002-2003 Opener:
The Warren Chiasson Quartet

by Sal Weir

Perhaps the only instrument with two different names - vibraharp or, the most commonly used, vibraphone - is one for which there are only a handful of players of jazz renown; certainly, Lionel Hampton, Milt Jackson, and Red Norvo are the most prominent among them. As audiences tend to measure everyone else against the masters, vibraphonist Warren Chiasson's task was a vary challenging one. We who attended the opening concert of The Duke Ellington Society's 2002-2003 season were treated to the most delightful and effervescent display of superior talent.

Unassuming and modest on first sight, this musician exploded in pure energy and ebullience as he led his quartet through a repertoire of familiar Ellington and Strayhorn tunes. Opening with the up-temp "C Jam Blues" and following it with "I'm Beginning to See the Light," Mr. Chiasson stretched out on his instrument, using a generous dose of vibrato and other mallet techniques to will the vibraphone to the needs of the renditions. He was backed up ably by Mr. Wayne Roberts on amplified acoustic bass and on the drum kit by Mr. Jimmy Madison, as well as by the gifted Mr. Joe Cohn on hollow-body electric guitar.

Mr. Cohn then led his rhythm section mates in a fascinating rendition of ?Isfahan" (from the Far East Suite). It is always interesting to hear familiar tunes (and, in this case, a known but not terribly familiar one) played in distinct way; here, there were no horns, yet Mr. Cohn played it beautifully. Mr. Chiasson returned to introduce his own arrangement of "Satin Doll," which he played with four mallets and a munificent helping of vibrato. I love to watch musicians handle their instruments; in Mr. Chiasson's case, I was mesmerized watching him switch from four red mallets to two blue mallets. In addition, he explored further resources of the instrument, creating a staccato effect by damping the bars with the mallets and using the various registers to play the melody, creating a quasi-orchestral effect. When he played "Lush Life" in the second half of the concert, he employed a pair of red and white mallets. Closing the first half of the concert, Mr. Chiasson offered a rendition of "Limehouse Blues," a tune he pointed out neither Duke nor Strays wrote but that Ellington did record in 1931.

After a break for wine and cheese the quartet returned and offered "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me," Mr. Roberts walking the neck of his bass nicely, Mr. Cohn kicking in a pretty solo. "Lotus Blossom" is a beautiful tune, and Mr. Roberts offered a nice rendition on bowed bass, accompanied by a quiet and subdued electric guitar. Mr. Madison introduced a spirited rendition of "Caravan" with a rollicking drum solo. A rousing performance of "Take the 'A' Train" closed the show.