This concert series sponsored by the Cameron Art Museum and the Cape Fear Jazz Society continues to attract sold out audiences, and the final concert of the current series certainly didn't disappoint. The two sets offered by the Mangroove Quintet were an homage to the bebop era of the 1940s to the late 1960s. Leader and drummer Manny Santos laid down combinations of "groovy" syncopated rhythms that at times reflected his ethnic Cape Verdean roots. Accordingly, his choice of repertoire was generously sprinkled with Afro-Cuban and Brazilian polyrhythms as well as the conventional bebop style.
The Miles Davis standard "Moanin' " (circa 1959) introduced the group with suitably laid back solos from Teddy Burgh on tenor saxophone, Jack Kuprica on piano, and an impressively melodic solo by the substitute bassist for the evening, Natalie Boeyink. Burgh took up the flute on many of the selections that followed and demonstrated an effective combination of establishing a rhythmic pattern (via a skillful modulation of his embouchure, voice and use of the flute keys) as he produced self-contained musical conversations that included all the elements of jazz – rhythm, melody, harmony, and improvisation. This was particularly expressive as an introduction, with only Santos' drumming, to Herbie Hancock's hit "Watermelon Man." It enabled the group to develop the tune into a hard driving and funky Latin jazz piece rife with improvised melodies and Caribbean rhythms.
Vocalist Felicia Jackson performed two pieces, one before and one after the intermission. In both cases she demonstrated uncanny control of her distinctly gospel-inspired voice on the Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart classic "My Funny Valentine" (piano and voice only) and Billie Holiday and Arthur Herzog Jr.'s "God Bless the Child."
Pianist Jack Kuprica turned out to be the rock that provided the solid harmonic and swinging foundation for the wide range of pieces from ballads to bebop to swing to Latin to shag featured in this eclectic concert. Needless to say, the audience loved it!
The final two pieces turned out to be most affecting of the evening. Perhaps the musicians were more relaxed and inspired. Their version of the jazz standard "Afro Blue," composed by Mongo Santamaria and popularized by the great saxophonist John Coltrane, featured highly creative and spirited solos from pianist Kuprica, bassist Boeyink, drummer Santos, and – once again – a dynamic flute solo by Burgh. This piece turned out to be the most innovative of the evening.
By way of an encore, the Bob Thiele and George Weiss classic "What a Wonderful World" revealed the latent talent of drummer Manny Santos: he is actually a fine vocalist who even gave a nod to Louis Armstrong, who popularized the tune in 1967, by affecting the "Satchmo growl" at times. This was an appropriate conclusion to a most enjoyable concert at the CAM.