Ronnie Scott’s genteel and suave new ground floor housed Horace Silver’s most recent quintet for three weeks in November. The material – invariably Silver’s own – seemed pallid and shop-worn extensions of his last decade’s goods, which he used to offset further with others’ compositions. His young hornmen, Randy Brecker on trumpet and Benny Maupin on tenor, responded in work-a-day fashion: tune, solos, out. Silver represented a martinet schoolmaster who, in addition to applying the rigid and plodding lessons, was responsible for collaring these truants who kept nipping backstage when not reciting. Their aloofness contrasted markedly with the drive and intensity of the rhythm, bassist John Williams and drummer Billy Cobham, happy swots both.
Silver’s piano form, once sprightly and individual, has become as ingrown of late as his compositions, lapsing into occasional self-parody; with the crabbed right hand and relentlessly thumping left, his playing now seems as huddled and crouched as his well-known stance at the keyboard. Randy Brecker, a promising Philadelphian, gets a brash, unsettling tone that would curl porcupine bristles. When he emerges from the cliché cocoon, which he periodically does, he spins some downright exciting choruses, tugging at the changes laid down insistently by Silver, ending statements with exclamation points. Working effectively in middle and low register, he evoked Iberian heraldry on Cape Verdean Blues. Maupin, a streamlined Detroit product, rolled smoothest through funk anthems Filthy McNasty and You Gotta Take A Little Love.
There were few bright moments with this well-oiled machine; here’s one: a meandering, shifting double coda on Song for my Father (the Portuguese folk bag remains Silver’s freshest) finding Maupin in command and at his more cogent, some impassioned and not overwrought Silver, and an empathetic give and take between bass and drums. Cobham was alert throughout, brimming with life. A solo or two by Williams, sure and solid, would have been most welcome.