Benjamin Boone and his Evolution Jazz Quartet are a Rogue tradition — and rightly so. Boone’s first show of the Rogue on Friday was a solid set that offered a special guest star: Philip Levine, with whom Boone is collaborating on an upcoming CD that pairs Levine’s poetry with the sounds of the quartet. It’s pretty amazing to get to see a former Poet Laureate of the United States kick off the festival. Alas, the Levine appearance was a one-time thing. But Boone and his quartet return for three more Rogue performances.
Levine, a former Fresno State professor who still lives part-time in Fresno, knows well how to play the slightly curmudgeonly type, giving his moment in the Rogue spotlight a low-key, homespun feel. (He approached the stage from the audience still wearing his rain jacket, taking it off once he got there.) With “Gin,” told from a teen-age perspective, we heard a noirish, bluesy accompaniment. His famed Valley poem “Our Valley” was framed with a coolly majestic poem. And his “What Work Is” was my favorite in terms of the music complementing the poetry — and vice versa.
As for the quartet by itself, which is what you’ll get at the other Rogue performances: It’s tight and accomplished. (Boone several times on sax treated us to amazingly apoplectic trills — a highlight.) Even without a famous poet, I’m sure that Rogue Jazz will continue to deliver.
Details: 7 p.m. March 1, 10 p.m. March 7, 10 p.m. March 8, Cal Arts-Severance. $10 (Rogue Bucks or cash).