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Donaldson offers good jazz sampling in Cabaret show

| Tuesday, April 2, 2013, 10:40 p.m.

Pushing 87, Lou Donaldson still is diggin' deep.

April's Jazz Appreciation Month concerts at the Cabaret Theater, Downtown, bear that name, and Donaldson was up to the task in the first of two sets April 2. From his opening theme song, “Blues Walk,” to his classic hit, “Alligator Boogaloo,” the alto sax legend wailed and roamed through facile explorations of songs.

There was nothing daring or risky about his play; he did not take the sax to the limits current stars such as Rudresh Mahanthappa are doing. But it would be safe to say that is not what his listeners wanted. They wanted that soulful, rhythm-and-blues rooted music for which he is noted.

But it is also worth noting the room was far from full. The concerts in this series have drawn extremely well, but the cabaret space was about a quarter empty.

Nonetheless, Donaldson offered a good sampling of his work, playing his soulful hits as well as bebop and hard bop favorites as Charlie Parker's “Wee” and “Bye Bye Blackbird” done in a Miles Davis fashion.

He also offered steady blasts at the “fusion and confusion” players of today, promising there would be not music that sounded like that of “Kenny G, Najee, Spyro Gyra or 50 Cent, who isn't worth a quarter.”

Led by Pittsburgh native guitarist Eric Johnson, his three standmates offered good backing. From “Blues Walk” on through the set, Johnson constructed solos that had the strong flavor of Wes Montgomery.

Organist Akiko Tsuruga was a delicate powerhouse all night, particularly standing out when Donaldson has some reed problems on “Alligator Boogaloo “ and she had to extend her solo while he made repairs. Her work was outstanding, building in passion steadily.

Donaldson also offered some vocals that could have just as easily been omitted. His work on “What a Wonderful World” and “Whiskey Drinking Woman” seemed, however, to be ways of conveying a musical form of his banter.

Yes, Lou Donaldson might be predictable, but he has a lot of soul.

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