Archive for alto saxophone

Album Reviews – A Sack Full of Sax

Posted in CD Reviews, curtjazz radio, Uncategorized, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on March 11, 2019 by curtjazz

Our first review post of the year, features four new albums from veteran saxophonists who should all, be better known than they are. Start to right that wrong, by picking up these projects, which are all recommended.

Chris Greene Quartet – Playspace (Single Malt)

The native of Evanston, IL has spent most of his career close to home, which means the Chicago jazz scene. Readers of this blog are aware of my fondness for his sound, indicated by multiple appearances of Mr. Greene’s albums on my year end “Best of” lists. On his twelfth album as a leader, Greene gives us more of what his best qualities – that full bodied, gritty, tenor attack and a surprisingly rich tone, when he switches to soprano.  Playspace finds Greene and the CGQ in a deeper soul jazz vein than usual, and I loved every minute of it. “The Crossover Appeal/Uno Mas”, locks into the pocket and doesn’t let go, with Marc Piane’s electric bass setting the stage and Greene getting into a sweaty sax duel with guest star Marquel Jordan. A Latin reading of Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil”, is surprisingly effective, with drummer Steve Corley taking center stage with a relentless groove and a killer solo. “Blues for Dr. Fear”, which appeared in a studio version, on 2017’s Boundary Issues, is back and funkier than ever, with Damian Espinosa’s cool keys weaving around Greene’s tough tenor. Playspace is another winning album from one of the true working groups in jazz today. Looks like we’re not going to get them out of the Windy City, y’all, so we’ll have to make the trip there, to experience in person, what we hear on this disc.

Nick Hempton – Night Owl (Triple Distilled)

Nick Hempton, who has called New York home since 2004, announces his intention from the first notes of this album. This a truly greasy session, influenced by the organ dates led by Stanley Turrentine, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt and so many of their brethren, in the dives and after-hours clubs of the Big Apple, since the 50’s. He has assembled the perfect cast for the date: Peter Bernstein on guitar, Kyle Kohler on organ, and Fukushi Tainaka on drums. These cats have all logged many hours, backing up similar dates and they inspire Mr. Hempton to lay down the most soulful playing that I’ve ever heard from him. Most of the tracks are Hempton originals but they perfectly capture that long-ago vibe. Mr. Hempton switches between the alto and the tenor without missing a beat and is equally effective on each horn. The standout tracks are the Latin-tinged “I Remember Milady’s”, with Hempton getting a nice assist from Bernstein; “After You’ve Gone”, with Hempton’s alto, recalling ‘Sweet Lou’, during his Blue Note heyday and Koehler evincing a Big John Patton influence; and the nasty title track, which sounds like a lost track from one of those classic Jimmy Smith; Stanley Turrentine; Kenny Burrell dates. Buy this album, pour a glass of your favorite libation and put on your best “funky face”, because Night Owl is the real deal. 

Ralph Moore – Three Score (WJ3)

Hard to believe but it’s true. Three Score is Ralph Moore’s first album as a leader in nearly 25 years. He hadn’t left the scene during that time; Moore spent the better part of the last twenty years, on the West Coast, playing in Jay Leno’s Tonight Show band. He also was a sideman for Oscar Peterson, Roy Hargrove, Ray Brown, Tom Harrell and many other jazz greats; so, he was here; he just wasn’t leading any dates. He has returned with a stellar album, on the best boutique label in jazz – Willie Jones III’s WJ3. Joined by Eric Reed on piano, Gerald Cannon on bass and Jones on drums, Mr. Moore’s sound, which for me, always landed in the niche between John Coltrane and Joe Henderson, is as captivating as ever. The band of top tier pros doesn’t miss a beat and the compositions, mostly by Moore and Reed, are uniformly excellent. If you’re going to skip around, you must first check out “Another Time”, a Reed original, which opens the proceedings and throws down the hard bop gauntlet; the infectious, toe tapping (and too brief) “Donny” and the reflective title track, which features Mr. Moore’s finest solo on the date. But don’t sleep on the rest of the disc because it’s all choice. Ralph Moore is back, y’all and Three Score is one of the best albums that I’ve heard so far, in 2019.

Justin Robinson – At First Light (WJ3)

Justin Robinson spent most of the last 15 years, alongside the late, great Roy Hargrove on some of the trumpet master’s finest live shows and recordings. His work with Hargrove, often overshadowed the impressive music that Mr. Robinson released as a leader. At First Light, is his first album in five years and his second for WJ3 Records. He is backed by a solid group of young cats, that he has worked with over the years, with Hargrove and in other settings; Sharp Radway on piano, Ameen Saleem on bass and Jeremy Clemons on drums. Mr. Robinson lists Jackie McLean among his influences and it shows in his sound, as do elements of Bobby Watson. His tone is in your face and hard swinging. Robinson composed six of the project’s eight tunes and there are many standouts: “Lamentations for R and D” starts with a mournful, wandering theme, which leads unexpectedly to a light bossa beat, while Robinson, sticks with the mood that he set in the opening. It’s compelling, and Radway and Clemons are especially good here. The beautiful “Love Thy Father”, allows Robinson to fully access his melodic side. There’s also “Cool Blues”, the Charlie Parker classic, that seems to be a rite of passage for alto players. Mr. Robinson’s take is a very good one, true to the structure of Bird but adding his own flourishes during his solos. It is Parker meets JMac meets Robinson and I liked it a lot. At First Light is another fine release from WJ3 Records. We don’t hear from them often but when we do, it’s consistently first-rate.

There’s a lot more that’s new and good out there, to tell you about. We’ll be dropping more reviews shortly. In the meantime, you can hear tracks from these albums and more on CurtJazz Radio, on Live 365. We’re always on and always FREE.

Until then, the jazz (and BAM) continues…

Four “Under The Radar” Alto Saxophonists

Posted in Under The Radar, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Video Vault, Who's New in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on June 11, 2013 by curtjazz

tk blue - latin birdYou know what y’all? There are a lot of good saxophonists playing under the radar these days. As I set out to write this piece, I planned to scribble a few names down, pare it down to four and get it done. But a strange thing happened, as I scribbled the list just kept growing and growing. Long story short, there were so many that we’re splitting this first go around into alto and tenor saxophonists. Alto this week and tenor next.

So here in alpha order are four fine alto saxophonists who should get a wider hearing:

T.K. Blue

I first heard T.K. Blue (aka Talib Kibwe or Eugene Rhynie) several years ago when he was playing on a session by a drummer whose name I now forget. As I now recall, Mr. Blue was the only redeeming thing about that session. I’ve kept up with his work from that point on and he has continued to impress me both as a sideman and on his own releases. Like many alto saxophonists, Mr. Blue has been strongly influenced by Charlie Parker but his Caribbean roots add another layer to his sound that makes him unique. I strongly recommend his two most recent projects: Follow The North Star, a fascinating musical retelling of the story of Solomon Northup and his book Twelve Years a Slave and Latin Bird, which as you may have guessed is a Latin and Caribbean tinged romp through the music of Charlie Parker.

Sharel Cassity

This Oklahoma City native got her big break when she sat in at a New Year’s 2008 jam session in NYC. She followed Roy Hargrove and Antonio Hart’s solos on “Be-Bop”. She acquitted herself so well that Hargrove and Jimmy Heath, who was in attendance, both asked Ms. Cassity to join their big bands on the spot. In addition to stints with both of those bands, this graduate of The New School and Julliard has appeared with the Diva Big Band, Nicholas Payton, Christian McBride, Mark Whitfield and many others. Her greatest triumph though has been Relentless, her critically acclaimed 2009 disc. We expect to hear much more from Ms. Cassity in the future.

Tim Green

Like this writer, Tim Green was “raised in the church”; like me, he also was influenced by all kinds of music, secular and Christian.  The Baltimore native, who finished 2nd in the 2008 Monk Saxophone Competition, has played and recorded with a wide range of artists from Kirk Franklin to Kenny Burrell to Donnie McClurkin and Hubert Laws. His work on the alto  has been lauded by musicians of all stripes and Jazz Times has called Green ” a player to watch”. His most recent release Songs From This Season, has been heralded by the critics and will likely end up on a number of this year’s “Best Of” lists. Mr. Green is not likely to be under the radar for long, be the first on your block to ‘discover’ him.

Sherman Irby

A melodic alto player out of the Cannonball Adderley school, Mr. Irby has been around for the better part of 15 years; as a solo artist as well as a sideman for Wynton Marsalis, Roy Hargrove, Marcus Roberts and others. He released a couple of strong albums for Blue Note in the late ’90’s, Full Circle and Big Mama’s Biscuits but they got lost in the glut of “New Young Lions” releases of that era. Of late, Irby has been a member of Wynton’s Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra and produced some very strong work on his own Black Warrior record label, of which two albums, Black Warrior from 2006 and 2011’s Live at the Otto Club, are standouts.

Be sure to use the links throughout this post to get more info about the artists whose music you enjoy and most importantly, support them by attending their concerts if they come to your area and buying their CDs or legally downloading their music.

Next week we’ll cover some tenor sax players.

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

Unsung Women of Jazz #7 – Vi Redd

Posted in Unsung Women of Jazz with tags , , , , , on October 1, 2011 by curtjazz

Vi Redd

This record is a sterling example of what the music [jazz] lost in the name of its phallocentricity. Vi Redd demonstrates a thoughtful tone and a careful respect for those around her. Her solos are pithy and directly to the point…Quite honestly, there’s really nothing quite like her records.”From Rob Ferrier’s All Music guide Review of Vi Redd’s Lady Soul LP

Claire Daly, Tineke Postma, Tia Fuller, Virginia Mayhew are just a few of the strong women jazz saxophone players on the scene today. Rewind 40 – 50 years and you’ll find very few names.  Elvira “Vi” Redd was one of those few.  Now I know that there were many women sax players during the ’40’s – 60’s who were part of the “all girl” big bands and novelty acts. What I’m talking about are women who stepped out there on the front line with the men and recorded as leaders.  Vi Redd was a pioneer.

Ms. Redd is the daughter of Alton Redd, who was a New Orleans drummer and the co-founder of the Big Easy’s legendary Clef Club. Vi was born in Los Angeles in 1928.  With her father being a major part of the Central Avenue jazz scene, Vi was exposed to many of the greats of jazz from an early age.  Young Vi was also blessed with an aunt, Elma Hightower, who was considered one of the foremost L.A. music teachers of her time.  Ms. Hightower was instrumental in Vi’s decision to play the saxophone.

Like many sax players of her generation, Ms. Redd’s sound is heavily influenced by Charlie Parker.  So, it was no accident that the first of her two albums as a leader was titled Bird CallRecorded in 1962, it’s a good album, that features Herb Ellis on guitar; Leroy Vinnegar on bass; Carmell Jones on trumpet; Russ Freeman on piano and a young, pre-fusion Roy Ayers on vibes.  In addition to her solid work on alto, Ms. Redd also sings on a few numbers, which is not a bad thing, as she is a fine vocalist with a compelling grit to her sound.  The tunes penned by producer Leonard Feather are the only selections that miss the mark.

The next year, she recorded her second and apparently, final album, Lady SoulIt’s the more polished of the two albums, with great playing and singing by Ms. Redd and first-rate support from Dave Bailey, Bucky Pizzarelli and Ben Tucker.  Unfortunately, Lady Soul has slipped into obscurity and is extremely hard to find.

When one does research on the career of Vi Redd, the term that recurs more than any other is “under-recorded”. How true that is. For though Ms. Redd has played and toured with artists such as Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughan and Max Roach, she has only two albums to her name and a scant four more with other artists.  Notable among these is Now’s The Time; an all female session led by Marian McPartland, in 1977.  Throughout the years, she gigged around the Los Angeles area and supported herself as a schoolteacher between engagements.  She finally received a bit of long overdue recognition in 2000, when she was honored at “Instrumental Women: Celebrating Women-N-Jazz“, a concert at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

As of this writing, Vi Redd is retired and living in the L.A. area. And as we can see in this heartwarming interview conducted by a family member in 2009, she is still sharp, delightful and energetic.

Recommended Recordings: