Baristas: Ronnie Cuber, Roger Rosenberg & Reed's Bass Drum
Reed's Bass Drum
Do baritone saxophonists get insufficient respect? Worthy recordings by an elder master, a mid-career pro and a genial parvenu suggest they might deserve quite a bit more.
Ronnie Cuber, who'll be 69 this Christmas and has played with everyone from George Benson to Lee Konitz, attacks his horn with the litheness of a wildcat, applying bounce and bite. RONNIE, Cuber's fifth CD for SteepleChase (itself closing in on 40 years) hews to hand-plucked boppers (zesty Freddie Hubbard, hell-bent Charlie Parker, brazen Clifford Brown, debonair Dave Brubeck, extroverted Eddie Vinson, pensive sighing Scott LaFaro) with two Tin Pan Alley classics and two by Michel Legrand. Cuber's ideas are clipped and tart, yet genially and joyously expansive. His lean splintery soundall his ownmight suggest Pepper Adams shredding. Helen Sung's piano is perfectly counterpoisedrelaxed and balancedopposite the leader's gravelly derring-do; this is true even on the tiptoe unisons opening "Ah-Leu-Cha." Boris Kozlov's bass, a potent voice in any context, affords a strong timbral buffer for Cuber. (Cuber and his band are colleagues in the singular maelstrom of Mingus Big Band.) Strong solos all around, including Johnathan Blake on drums.
Roger Rosenberg, Gotham-born, 59, pulls out all the stops on his robust, rollicking set Baritonality. His sound is sandpapery, authoritative, gravelly in mid-register, reverberant in low. Ideas are hearty, expansive and by-the-bop-book on this flashy, brassy excursion. Straight-up originals set a tense pace: the title track and "The 8th Day" wend through speedy blues. Rosenberg also doubles on soprano (the up-tempo "Paradox") and bass clarinet (a musing-then-acrobatic ballad dedicated to Mike Brecker). There is able, affable support by fellow veteransMark Soskin (piano), Chip Jackson (bass) and Jeff Brillinger (drums)as well as a soaring guitar cameo by Peter Bernstein on the Landesman-Wolf beauty "Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most." Rosenberg has no fear of going it alone on a booting, gruff/tender four-minute tour of "Someone To Watch Over Me" or head-to-head with Brillinger on the exclamatorily scalar highballing closer "Birds and Tranes."
Jonah Parzen-Johnson, 30-something baritonist from Chicago, appears less as a leader on Which Is Which than as the foremost participant in a collective triowith bassist Noah Garabedian and drummer Aaron Ewingwhose playful apellation designates its three voices. With no comfy chordal axes to guide or dictate, Reed's Bass Drum applies a constructivist process: their grazing passes over what's on the usual jazz buffet; they sample judiciously, tasting their way from track to track, taking small bites, chewing well, savoring and digesting with discrimination. They lead listeners along with care through their findings: tracks often segue one to the next in stealthy progression, explored cautiously in chromatic increments. "No, A Shark" bouncily develops a phrase from the title track; "Changes" and "At A Glance" grow similar motifs, possibly shoots from Gerry Mulligan's 1954 quartet. These thoughtful lads make many fine musical points in 44 minutes; the lead instrument being baritone sax, rather than (say) pocket trumpet, gives their whole essay more heft, more gravitas.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Thermo; Gloria's Step; Four; The Duke; Daahoud; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; Ah Leu Cha; Love Theme from Summer of '42; All The Things You Are; Watch What Happens.
Personnel: Ronnie Cuber: baritone saxophone; Helen Sung: piano; Boris Koslov: bass; Johnathan Blake: drums.
Tracks: Baritonality; Three for B; 43rd St. Mama; Mike; Paradox; Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most; The 8th Day; Someone To Watch Over Me; Birds and Trees.
Personnel: Roger Rosenberg: baritone and soprano saxophone, bass clarinet; Mark Soskin: piano; Chip Jackson: bass; Jeff Brillinger: drums (1-5, 7-10); Peter Bernstein: guitar (6).
Which is Which
Tracks: Which Is Which; No: A Shark; Changes; After The Almonds Fell; When You Listen; At A Glance; Stretches; Yatra.
Personnel: Jonah Parzen-Johnson: baritone saxophone; Noah Garabedian: bass; Aaron Ewing: drums.