Veteran jazzmen Red Rodney and Ira Sullivan like to call themselves the ''Odd Couple.'' Says Rodney, ''I'm Walter Matthau, but sometimes we turn it around.'' Devotees of Charlie (Bird) Parker will remember Rodney as the trumpet player who replaced Miles Davis in Parker's group, and one of the finest bop trumpeters in jazz. Multi-instrumentalist Sullivan first played with Rodney in the 1950s, and the two were reunited in 1980. They formed a quintet that's making big waves in jazz circles these days.
The group, which they refer to affectionately as ''The Red Sullivan Show,'' includes, besides themselves, a trio of excellent young players: pianist-composer Garry Dial, bassist Jay Anderson, and drummer Jay Hirschfield. The combination of the two seasoned horn men and their ''children'' (''Ira's the father, and I'm the mother,'' jokes Rodney) is a winner. The considerable writing talents of pianist Dial add a dimension that carries the group's sound beyond the scope of bop.
An appearance some time ago at Sweet Basil's here proved the creativity and versatility of the quintet. Sweet Basil is known for booking groups that are new , adventurous, or unusual in some way - one of the rare clubs that is willing to take a chance. Although there was no risk involved with the Rodney-Sullivan group, there was plenty of enjoyment.
Its first set included standards, jazz tunes, and a couple of Dial originals, displaying a high level of improvisatory skill as well as a rather touching respect for melody, especially on ''Autumn in New York.''
But the clincher is the electricity that happens between Rodney and Sullivan. Rodney plays trumpet and fluegelhorn, and Sullivan usually brings along both of those horns, as well as a couple of saxophones and a flute. Sullivan plays all these instruments equally well, but with a different approach to each, so he ends up sounding like several different players.
Rodney's soaring trumpet transcends bop, and Sullivan's playing is warm and rich on tenor sax and forceful and eloquent on trumpet. When the two men engage in one of their famous musical battles on stage, the sparks really fly! They egg each other on, especially when both are playing the same horn, and love every minute of it. Says Rodney of Sullivan on their break, ''He makes me play better.''
''Yeah,'' countered Sullivan, ''I take longer solos and you get more breaks!''
The tall, dark Sullivan and his shorter, redheaded partner obviously get along well. They take pride in the band, and have already made two albums with it - ''Spirit Within'' and ''Sprint,'' on Elektra/Musician.