Armand Boatman Trio and vibraphonist Jim Cooper at Musicians Hall

By Patricia Myers:

The sparkling piano style of Armand Boatman combined with the flashing mallets of longtime Chicago-area vibraphonist Jim Cooper in a quartet setting on Nov. 4 at the Musicians Hall in Phoenix. From the opening lilt of “Almost Like Being in Love” to the closing Latin-flavored “Datura,” both sets were a satisfying mix of standards and originals.


As always, Boatman thrilled listeners with his agile melodic and rhythmic shifts, often channeling his idol, Oscar Peterson. Although adept at replicating the late master’s riffs, Boatman constantly injected inventive new elements. Cooper’s mallets-style was less Terry Gibbs (flash and fire), more Bobby Hutcherson (melodic and free-flowing). An imaginative improviser, Cooper delivered quicksilver solos and propulsive rhythms, playing most of the gig with two mallets. He has been playing vibraphone for 40 years as a soloist and sideman, performing with musicians including Ira Sullivan, Art Van Damme, Buddy de Franco, Jon Faddis and the Chicago Jazz Ensemble.


“Waltz for Betty,” a Cooper original from his 1991 “Tough Town” album with multi-instrumentalist Sullivan, was enhanced by drummer Dan Tomlinson’s hands-only segment. A blur-speed bebop mode re-energized “Get Happy” as Boatman cut loose with three key-change modulations in two measures. Cooper used four mallets during a reinvention of “Girl Talk,” complemented by acoustic bassist Jack Radavich’s clever fret-sliding to punctuate his warm resonance.


Tenor saxophonist Jerry Donato was invited on stage to join the quartet, adding fiery vigor to a stylish rendition of “I’ll Remember April.” The improvisation featured Boatman’s vaulting runs and intriguing modulations, Radavich staying in treble range on bass to underscore Cooper’s forceful vigor.


The second set opened with the swinging “Doxy” followed by “It’s You or No One,” both featuring imaginative musicality. A tender treatment of Jule Styne’s “The Nearness of You” was illuminated by Donato’s tenderly reflective solos. The evening closed with Cooper’s Latin-rhythm original “Datura” (a hallucinogenic flower) that featured an intriguing polyrhythmic excursion by Tomlinson.


An attentive and appreciate crowd of 50 attended the concert in this cozy performance space, another in an ongoing first-Tuesday series presented by the Phoenix Musicians Union Local 586 AFM. Upcoming concerts in the Musicians Hall will feature a trombone choir led by Doug Robinson on Dec. 2nd, then jazz-blues organist Peter Zale on Jan. 6. All concerts are free at the hall, 1202 E. Oak St., Phoenix.

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