Tributaries: Bruce Eskovitz, Chris Byars, Mark Master & Jimmy Bennington
Three saxophonists and a pianist, only two of whom are known as much for their writing as their improvising, are the subjects of these four tribute/homage albums concentrating on their compositions. The approaches vary almost as much as the styles and careers of the subjects.
One for Newk II is one tenor saxophonist, Dr. Bruce Eskovitz, delving into the repertoire of another, Sonny Rollins, essaying seven Rollins originals and two ballads favored by him. What's surprising is how familiar and inviting the sound of Rollins' tunes are, especially when played by a tenor with a similarly robust and burly tone and sense of swing, even though he's far from an overt disciple. Besides the familiar hard bop themes "Pent-Up House," "Airegin" and "Strode Rode," there's the jam staple "Tenor Madness," with Ernie Watts on the second, dueling tenor sax, the scintillating jazz waltz "Valse Hot" and two lesser known but catchy tunes: "No Moe" and the AfroLatin tinged "Paradox". Four of those tracks add the vibes of Charlie Shoemake to the basic quartet (Eskovitz, pianist Bill Mays, bassist Ray Drummond and drummer Larance Marable). A more conventional soloistpredictable alternation of stressed and unstressed notes, adherence to changesthan Rollins, Eskovitz does bring swing momentum and heat to his playing, which together with the listenable repertoire, would make for a good recital. What raises it up to a very good album is his cohorts. Mays and Shoemake provide sparkling solos and Drummond and Marable a driving rhythmic foundation.
Blue Lights: The Music of Gigi Gryce resurrects the music of a gifted alto saxophonist and composer-arranger who was active on the bebop/hard bop scene for a long decade (early '50s to mid '60s) and then dropped out of performing to devote his life to teaching (he died in 1983). Saxophonist (he plays alto, tenor and the flute here) Chris Byars has unearthed Gryce's compositions and arrangements and presents seven of them, plus one of his own originals, on this winning album. The Gryce repertoire here bypasses his most famous compositions, such as "Nica's Tempo" and "Minority," and includes some compellingly alluring ballads, although even Gryce's up-tempo numbers are marked by an enticing melodicism akin to that of such distinctively lyrical contemporaries of his as Tadd Dameron and Benny Golson; for instance, "The Infant Song," with a bridge as singular and intriguing as its main A-melody. There's also a triple-themed and tempoed mini-suite, "Al-Ghashiyah," demonstrating Gryce was thinking beyond song form conventions. Sharing solo space with Byars is frontline partner, trombonist John Moscamaking the most of this opportunity to stretch out from the confines of the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra fine young pianist Sacha Perry, bassist Ari Roland, whose exclusively arco solos add the flavor of a third horn, and crisply swinging drummer Stefan Schatz. This album only begins to explore the riches of Gryce's legacy and we can only hope for more.
Arranger Mark Masters conceived what is now Farewell Walter Dewey Redman as a large ensemble showcase for the saxophonist, who died before the project could be brought to fruition. Assuming the role assigned to Redman is alto saxophonist Oliver Lake, one of four featured guests with the Masters Ensemble along with trumpeter Tim Hagans, bassist Dave Carpenter and drummer Peter Erskine (the four also offer two improvised quartet tracks to the project). Masters has created exceedingly supple, fluid tapestries for the soloists, so the ensemble often becomes a collaborator offering cues and commentary that go beyond riffs and shouts. He's also brought out the best in Redman's works, suggesting that the musician best known as a small group improviser was also a much-better-than-ordinary jazz composer. Lake's contributions are a tour de force, a kaleidoscope of moods and approaches, from visceral, pungent attacks incorporating squawks and driving squalls of notes to remarkably tender lyrical flights that manage to retain an acerbic edge. It makes for an outstanding big band album and a marvelous tribute.
Another Friend: The Music of Herbie Nichols, unlike other explorations of Nichols' music that expand it to horns and strings, keeps to the format in which the composer recorded, the trio: drummer-arranger Jimmy Bennington, pianist David Haney and bassist Michael Bisio. But while the piano of Nichols is the clear and elemental force and leader on his own recordings, Bennington strives more for the cooperative trio ideal famously exemplified by Bill Evans. But while Haney evokes the mix of boogie-barrelhouse roll and Monk-ian time and dissonance that was Nichols and Bennington suggests the virile percussion of Art Blakey and Max Roach (Nichols' most frequent collaborators), the music lacks the compulsive yet rollicking momentum of the originals. Suggestions of the composer's obsessive, repeated but raucously compelling circling over of his chord sequences and melodic kernels are dissipated by the trio's long stretches of brooding, ruminative interactionsclose to a Nichols parody on such longer tracks as "House Party Starting," which seems to take forever actually to start. Still, it's good to hear Nichols' music, even when adulterated with needless expansions.
Tracks and Personnel
One for Newk II
Tracks: Pent-Up House; No Moe; Paradox; Count Your Blessings; Airegin; Valse Hot; Strode Rode; Tenor Madness; Poor Butterfly.
Personnel: Bill Mays: piano; Charlie Shoemake: vibraphone; Ray Drummond: bass; Larance Marable: drums; Ernie Watts: saxophone.
Blue Lights: The Music of Gigi Gryce
Tracks: Lucky Swing; Sans Souci; Al-Ghashiyah; The Infant Song; Baba's Blues; Shabozz; Blue Lights; Anne Marie.
Personnel: John Mosca: trombone; Sacha Perry: piano; Ari Roland: bass; Stefan Schatz: drums; Chris Byars: alto sax; James Byars: oboe.
Farewell Walter Dewey Redman
Tracks: Dewey's Tune; I-Pimp; Boody; Le Clit; Transits; My One and Only Love; Sitatunga; Joie de Vivre; Love Is; Thren; Adieu Mon Redman.
Personnel: Mark Masters: arrangements; Oliver Lake: alto saxophone; Gary Foster: alto saxophone, alto flute; Don Shelton: tenor and soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; John Mitchell: tenor saxophone and bassoon; Bob Carr: baritone saxophone and bass clarinet; Scott Englebright: trumpet; Les Lovitt: trumpet; Tim Hagans: trumpet; Les Benedict: trombone; Dave Woodley: trombone; Charlie Morillas: bass trombone; Stephanie O'Keefe: French horn; Dave Carpenter: bass; Milcho Leviev: piano (3); Cecilia Coleman: piano (8,9); Peter Erskine: drums.
Another Friend: The Music of Herbie Nichols
Tracks: Old 52nd St Rag; Another Friend; Ina; Prancin' Pretty Woman; Twelve Bars; House Party Starting.
Personnel: Jimmy Bennington: drums; David Haney: piano; Michael Bisio: bass.