Duran Duran: the Comeback Kids

The glamour kings from MTV rock, while smooth saxophonist Illinois Jacquet swings

DURAN DURAN At Radio City Music Hall.

ILLINOIS JACQUET BIG BAND At Tavern on the Green's Chestnut Room.

IN an age when popular music has pretty much abandoned melody, the virtues of a previously maligned but hugely successful band like Duran Duran have become more apparent. In 1993, they scored the second biggest comeback of the year (after Meat Loaf's) with their self-titled album. ``Duran Duran'' yielded the band's first hits in years with ``Ordinary World'' and ``Come Undone.'' They are in the middle of a successful concert tour (interrupted for several weeks due to lead singer Simon LeBon's throat injury), and recently performed a three-night stint at Radio City Music Hall.

A highly enthusiastic crowd welcomed the band, and although Duran Duran in concert pales next to their highly produced records, they offered persuasive evidence that they could rock. The band features LeBon on vocals, Nick Rhodes on keyboards, John Taylor on bass, and Warren Cuccurullo on lead guitar. Though the performers plowed through much of their repertoire, they were occasionally playful with the material, giving ``Hungry Like the Wolf'' a plaintive, soulful reading, and turning ``Notorious'' into an all-out funk session. Led by Cuccurullo's virtuoso guitar playing, the band produced a solid, no-frills concert, which showed that they don't always need arena special effects.

Duran Duran is a group whose success was created by flashy videos and MTV; their current hit, ``Too Much Information,'' features the lyrics ``Destroyed by MTV, I hate to bite the hand that feeds me,'' and their concert demonstrated that they have found a way to survive beyond the video age.

The opening act, a British group called James, has been making solid records for years without having much success on the charts. Their new album and single may change that, and in concert they demonstrated their pop chops with guitar- and keyboard-driven songs that demonstrated a real gift for hooks and melodies, along with sharply observed lyrics. It may not be too long before they do their own headlining.

IT was in 1942 that tenor saxophone player Illinois Jacquet played one of the most famous solos in the history of jazz, in the Lionel Hampton Band recording of ``Flyin' Home.'' More than 50 years later, he is still playing, and New Yorkers have the privilege of hearing him and his 16-piece Big Band in a rare club engagement, playing until the end of this month at the Tavern on the Green's Chestnut Room.

Jacquet has had a long and celebrated career - he played with both the Cab Calloway and Count Basie Orchestras before forming his own band. He recently played for President Clinton at the White House, and two years ago a documentary film about him, ``Texas Tenor: The Illinois Jacquet Story,'' was released.

Seeing this band in a club was an amazing experience. Sitting a few feet away from the stage, one was overwhelmed by the sound and the fury of the horn section, consisting of five saxophones, three trombones, and three trumpets. The music was resolutely old-fashioned, alternating between swing and ballads, some of the songs accompanied by raspy vocals from the leader. Like his idol Louis Armstrong, whom he imitated at one point, Jacquet is not really much of a singer, but his voice is infused with sincerity, and in such songs as ``Just in Time,'' ``On the Sunny Side of the Street,'' and ``What a Wonderful World,'' he overcame technical deficiences with his sheer love of the music.

But it was in the swinging numbers that the band really shone, and in ``Stompin' at the Savoy'' and ``Flyin' Home,'' among others, the precision and power were astonishing. There were quite a few younger members in the orchestra, and the quality of the solos was uneven, but Jacquet's arrangements transported the audience to big band heaven. When he lifted his saxophone, he demonstrated that he still has the muscular musical style that brought him the nickname ``The Texas Tenor.''

The Chestnut Room at the Tavern on the Green is a new addition to the New York jazz-club scene, and it is a large and elegant space. The club is aggressively pursuing a policy of headliner acts, and future weeks will see engagements by such artists as Benny Green (Feb. 8 to 13), Ahmad Jamal (Feb 15 to 20), and Jimmy Scott (Feb. 22 to 27).

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