Mark Gross: Riddle of the Sphinx
Alto/soprano saxophonist Mark Gross and his cohorts carry on in music man's fascination with trying to solve the riddles associated with Egypt's greatest monument the Sphinx. The first track, the mysterious sounding "Valley of the Dry Bones" establishes the overall setting for what's to follow over the next 50 or so minutes, viz., Middle Eastern musical themes built on Gross' probing sometimes querulous soprano. But on the next track, "Moses In Egypt", there's a discernable feeling of hope created, again with the soprano telling the story line, with Brian Blade's drums and Mulgrew Miller's piano urging him on. And so it goes throughout the album, each track building on the musical images created by the previous ones. Kenny Garrett's dreamy "Lullaby of Isfahan" compliments the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn tribute to the golden age of "Isfahan". The latter is a platform for Gross also as he recalls Johnny Hodges' luxurious rendition of this tune, with just pianist Miller helping out. This is one of the highlights of the album.
But there are more as well. Cannonball Adderley's "Mirabi" creates images of oases with John La Barbara playing the ancient Oud to create the necessary illusions. Wayne Shorter's hard bop Black Nile, while out of place with the overall theme of the session, gives Gross an opportunity to pay homage to those bop altos who have preceded him. For the album's coda, "The Red Sea", the playing is serene and resigned that the riddles of the ancient watchdogs of civilization remain, with Miller's gently struck last three notes ending the session. Very effective. This album is one of the few that manages to hold true to its theme announced in the title without becoming cloying or monotonous. Recommended.
Track Listing: Valley of the Dry Bones; Moses in Egypt; Eastern Joy Dance; Lullaby of Isfahan; Riddle of the Sphinx; The Desert Sands of Cairo; Black Nile; Isfahan; Marabi; The Red Sea
Personnel: Mark Gross - Alto & Soprano Sax; Mulgrew Miller - Piano; Brian Blade - Drums; Darryl Hall - Bass; Joe Locke - Vibes/Marimba; Khalil Kwame Bell - Percussion; John La Barbara - Oud