Triangle Arts and Entertainment – News and Reviews Theatre Dance Music Arts

The Al Strong Quintet — One Down, One to Go!

Albert Strong

Albert Strong

Composer/arranger/trumpeter/band leader Al Strong is a central part of the Triangle area jazz scene. In addition to playing jazz locally (and worldwide), Strong teaches in the Jazz Studies program at his alma mater, North Carolina Central University in Durham, NC. And he is a co-founder of The Art of Cool Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes jazz locally.

The Al Strong Quintet played a Friday June 30th, gig at Raleigh’s Circa 1888 as part of the Jazz at Circa 1888 series. And we consider their act to be well worth catching.

The June 30th lineup included bandleader Al Strong (trumpet), J.C. Martin (guitar), Sean Mason (keyboards), Kenny Phelps-McKeown (bass), and Dorien Dotson (drums). The group’s material included some well-arranged, familiar sounding tunes interwoven with originals, including a few blues numbers.

Even though Strong’s trumpet was the lead instrument most of the night, there were times when Martin’s guitar and Mason’s keyboards were in the limelight; and one of the tunes included a drum solo, expertly performed (but not over-performed) by Dotson. The band’s music, while innovative and exploratory, never “left us behind” by “going too far.”

Circa 1888 is a comfortable, multi-use venue. For patrons wishing to see the band while listening, there are booths and barstools in the same room as the stage.

A little further back is a section that has a “living room” feel to it, including a couch. And there is also an outdoor patio even farther away. These sections would be preferable for patrons who wish the music to be background to conversation.

Finally, there is a section with pool tables for patrons who would like live music while shooting pool.

Friday night’s performance had a “comfortably full house” — several patrons in all sections but no crowding whatsoever.

The Al Strong Quintet will be playing at 7 p.m. on Saturday, July 8th, in the Sertoma Amphitheatre in Cary’s Bond Park. For more information, click or

For more information on Al Strong and upcoming gigs, click or

Circa 1888 will be hosting other jazz acts in the coming months. For details, click or


Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.

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Categorised in: A&E Music Reviews, Lead Story, Reviews