The 2000 portion of the current Jazz at the Bistro series kicks off quite nicely this week with an appearance by tenor-sax player Tim Warfield and his sextet. "Hmm, Tim Warfield," you might be thinking. "The name sounds familiar, but I just can't quite place him." Well, if you've been keeping up with jazz on more than a cursory basis over the past decade, you're sure to have encountered Warfield's rousing sax work in a variety of settings.
Maybe you got hip to Warfield when he first hit the recording scene in the early '90s, showcasing his talent in the company of James Carter and St. Louis' own Todd Williams on the Tough Young Tenors' Alone Together or as part of the lineup of "young lions" that included Roy Hargrove, Christian McBride and Benny Green on the Jazz Futures' Live in Concert. Or if you're a fan of Nicholas Payton, you probably know Warfield for his fine sax work on Payton's last two Verve releases, Gumbo Nouveau and Payton's Place, and his role in Payton's touring band for the past four years. He's also released three fine recordings as a leader, including 1998's Gentle Warrior, which made the New York Times year-end Top 10 list, and played with the likes of Christian McBride, James Williams and Jimmy Smith.
But the most telling indicator of Warfield's talent -- and the respect of his fellow musicians -- is the incredible backing band he's assembled for his Jazz at the Bistro appearances. First of all, Payton will be sitting in on trumpet, taking a rare sideman's role in support of Warfield. Cyrus Chestnut, who's set to appear as a leader at the Backstage Bistro in May, will play piano. And Stefon Harris, whose debut recording, Black Action Figure, has made quite a few Top 10 lists in '99, will be on vibes. Add Tarus Mateen (Warfield's bassist of choice for his own releases) and up-and-coming drummer Rodney Green, and you've got the makings of one very strong band.
Many musicians might be intimidated by having a backing band filled with leaders in their own right, but with Warfield -- and musicians like Payton and Chestnut -- the music always seems to come first. The Tim Warfield Sextet is definitely worth hearing. If you've got the time, try to catch more than one set and maybe more than one night of this group. It should be hot.