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Herbie Mann and Sona Terra 

Severance Hall

Herbie Mann and Sona Terra
Severance Hall
February 20

After spending the bulk of his musical career playing bebop, funk, and Latin jazz, Herbie Mann has turned his attention to the music of his roots (i.e., the folk melodies of Eastern Europe). At least, that was the concept with Sona Terra. In the first of two concerts, the band looked a whole lot like an Eastern European folk/jazz hybrid band -- besides Mann and his son at the kit, the group included an acoustic bass guitarist, a nylon string guitarist, and the notable Gil Goldstein, who doubled on piano and accordion. Aside from a single tune, "Magyar Dreams," and the occasional accent or passage, it was business as usual for Mann, who played a little bebop, a fair smattering of funk, and plenty of Caribbean- and Latin-influenced jazz.

Things got off to a slightly bad start with a few breathy, awkward notes from Mann. He has not been in the best health lately, and it sounded for a moment as if his playing had suffered. Those hasty conclusions were soon put to rest, as Mann warmed up and soared on the next number, a funky New Orleans reworking of an old Charlie Parker tune. Mann's best moment came soon thereafter, on a song written by Goldstein with the working title "The Fastest Flute in the West." On his tenor flute, which gave him a rich, warm tone, Mann was at his rawest and most inventive. Here was the good old Herbie Mann, proving again that being popular doesn't mean you can't get up and blow right.

Among the band members, the only outright sore thumb was Mann's son Geoff. His talking drum work and funky drumming were fine. But for some of the softer numbers, especially the ones featuring the nylon string guitar or Goldstein on accordion, Geoff's drumming ranged from unnecessary to intrusive. There's no shame in sitting out the occasional tune. Toward the end of the set, Mann trotted out pieces of the Latin funk-lite variety: the sort of bossa-fusion stuff that has characterized much of his later career. Though Mann put in a few interesting ideas, and the band acquitted itself on the material, it was all a little too bland -- especially in comparison to the front half of the concert. But by then, Mann had already proved himself. -- Aaron Steinberg

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