Archive for tenor sax

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…

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A “Blowin’ Session” in the QC

Posted in Jazz in Charlotte, JazzLives!, Unsung Saxophone Masters, Video Vault with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 16, 2019 by curtjazz

Jazz lore is filled with stories of the “Blowing Session”; where the great instrumentalists who played the same instrument, would gather on a stage and demonstrate their prowess. Usually this would begin with the basic head arrangement of a well known standard and from there, the combatants would take things to the next level, in their solos, each vying to outdo the last. Often, these were friendly completions; other times, if some of the cats had “beef” with each other, this could be a battle nearly to the death.

Sometimes, the cats would take these battles to the studio. There, we would get a mixed bag; the constraints of studio time costs and realizing that the results would have to fit onto at least one side of an LP, could dampen some of the fancier flights. However, we still have some classic and near classic recordings, and many of these, to no surprise, involved tenor saxophone players. I’ll drop a list of some of the best at the end.

Right now, you need to know about a little bit of the revival of that tradition that will be happening in Charlotte, NC on January 17 – 19, in Jazz Arts Initiative’s THE JAZZ ROOM. We will have have some of the finest tenor players from the area, coming together to do battle. Each will appear with our all-star rhythm section (Lovell Bradford – piano; Aaron Gross – bass; Malcolm Charles – drums) and in various combinations on stage together. The musical sparks are bound to fly!

Juan Rollan

Over the weekend, our lineup will change from night to night and it includes the following sax masters: Chad Eby; Greg Jarrell; David Lail; Brian Miller; Juan Rollan; Annalise Stalls and PhillipWhack

Chad Eby

The accompanying clips are samples of a few of our tenor masters, smokin’ their way through some of their prior gigs. Now, image what we will get when we bring all of these ingredients together.

Phillip Whack

Two sets nightly, from Thursday, January 17 – Saturday, January 19, means you will have six opportunities to be a part of JAI’s Tenor Madness. Thursday and Friday, the times are 6:00 pm and 8:15 pm; Saturday sets are at 7:00 pm and 9:15 pm. THE JAZZ ROOM is located at The Stage Door Theater at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. I will be your MC for all sets but please don’t let that stop you from coming!

Annalise Stalls

Tickets are a true bargain! $14 in advance and $16 at the door, until there are no more. To get them, go to CarolinaTix.org

For further info about Jazz Arts Initiative, visit their website thejazzarts.org

Oh yeah, I did promise a list of recordings that include some great tenor battles. Here are five to get you started, in no particular order:

Boss Tenors – Gene Ammons & Sonny Stitt [Verve]

A Blowin’ Session – Johnny Griffin (w/ John Coltrane & Hank Mobley) [Blue Note]

Tenor Conclave – Al Cohn; Zoot Sims; Mobley; Coltrane [Prestige/OJC]

Tenor Madness – Sonny Rollins (w/Coltrane on the title track) [Prestige/OJC]

Alone Together – Tough Young Tenors (Walter Blanding Jr.; James Carter; Herb Harris; Tim Warfield; Todd Williams) [Antilles/Verve]

Unsung Saxophone Masters# 1 – Curtis Amy

Posted in Unsung Saxophone Masters with tags , , , , , , on February 5, 2012 by curtjazz

Curtis Amy (1927 – 2002)

Even if you don’t know his name, you’ve probably heard Curtis Amy. If you listened to pop music and pop radio from the mid-’60’s through the late ’70’s, then you heard Amy’s tenor, soprano or flute backing artists from Carole King, to Ray Charles to the Doors. But as a solo artist, Curtis Amy toiled in virtual obscurity.

Born in Houston, TX, in 1927, Amy’s first instrument was the clarinet at the young age of four.  He was drafted and during his stint in the Army, he started to play the tenor sax. When his time in the Army was up, Amy decided to pursue formal musical training at Kentucky State College (now University), from which he graduated in the early ’50’s.  He then taught school in Tennessee and knocked around playing gigs throughout the midwest for a couple of years, before landing in Los Angeles around 1955.  Once in L.A., he recorded a session with Dizzy Gillespie and continued to pay his dues on the club scene.

Curtis Amy – “24 Hours Blues” from Way Down

While playing at a club called “Dynamite Jackson’s”, in the Crenshaw District, Curtis Amy caught the ear of Dick Bock, the now legendary head of Pacific Jazz Records.  Bock dug the bluesy sound of Amy’s tenor and signed him to the label.  Amy’s first date for Pacific Jazz was The Blues Message, which he co-led with organist Paul Bryant, another L.A. club regular.  The sound on that session is what you would expect – greasy organ and gritty tenor, augmented by Roy Brewster’s valve trombone. The music would have easily fit into any smoky joint in Crenshaw, Watts or even Harlem. Though Bock had brought Amy, Brewster, Bryant and the others in the quintet together for the recording, the cats apparently dug their sound and decided to remain together as a group for a while, taking up residence as the house band at “Dynamite Jackson’s” and cutting one more album, Meetin’ Here, in 1961.

Curtis Amy and Paul Bryant on the title track from ‘Meetin’ Here’

Between 1960 and 1963, Bock and Pacific Records kept Mr. Amy busy as he recorded a total of six albums as a leader or co-leader. All but one included Brewster as a sideman.  They are also notable for containing some of the early efforts of two vibraphonists who are now anything but obscure, Bobby Hutcherson (on Groovin’ Blue) and Roy Ayers (on Way Down and Tippin’ on Through). The unquestionable standout of Amy’s Pacific Jazz Recordings (and of his overall catalog) is his final album for the label, 1963’s Katanga!.  It was originally credited to the co-leadership of Amy and Dupree Bolton, a trumpet player who was as gifted as he was enigmatic.  On Katanga!, the overt blues base of most of Amy’s earlier works has been replaced by a sound that is closer to hard bop. Amy, Bolton, pianist Jack Wilson, guitarist Ray Crawford, bassist Victor Gaskin and drummer Doug Sides, burst forth with a power that is still as arresting today as it was almost half a century ago.  Nevertheless, Katanga! was lost in the surfeit of jazz releases at that time.  It all but vanished from the scene, along with the musicians who led the session.

Curtis Amy, Dupree Bolton and Ray Crawford lead a live version of “Katanga” on the old Frankly Jazz television program

Curtis Amy would lead just three more sessions after 1963; a totally forgettable pop album Sounds of Hollywood in 1965, a date that Amy later dismissed as “syrup”;  Mustang;  a Joel Dorn produced album for Verve, which drew some attention from acid jazzers in the ’90’s, due to the funky title track and Peace For Love a very good album that marked Amy’s return to straight-ahead jazz, as well as his recorded swan song.  Though Peace For Love was recorded in 1994, it was not released in the U.S. until 2004, two years after Amy’s death.

In the years between the mid-60’s and the start of this century, Amy, though invisible to the jazz scene, was anything but idle.  He married Merry Clayton, a fine and extremely underrated vocalist in her own right (she is the female singer who gives Mick Jagger a run for his money on “Gimme Shelter”). Together and separately, they worked constantly in Hollywood.  When Merry joined Ray Charles’ Raelettes, Curtis signed on for a three-year stint as Brother Ray’s musical director.  When The Doors went for an orchestral sound on 1969’s The Soft Parade, they called on Amy as one of the saxes. It’s Mr. Amy that you hear soloing on the hit “Touch Me”.  Mr. and Mrs. Amy are also heard all over Carole King’s immortal album Tapestry, Merry as a background vocalist and Curtis on reeds – that’s his soprano sax on the break on “It’s Too Late” and his flute that rides out “So Far Away”.

From The Smothers Brothers show, here’s “Touch Me” by The Doors, with Curtis Amy on tenor

Curtis Amy died of pancreatic cancer in 2002. Though he was reluctant to be called a “Texas Tenor” or a “West Coast Jazz” player, he left a fine body of work that is worth exploring by fans of any niche or genre of Black American Music. I recommend that you start with Katanga! and work your way in. You’ll find much to like.

Recommended Recordings

  • Katanga! – (EMI Japan) – CD available as import
  • Groovin’ Blue – (EMI Japan) – CD available as import
  • Peace for Love (Fresh Sounds Spain) – CD available as import – hard to find
  • Mosaic Select 7 – Curtis Amy (Mosaic Records)  [a 3-CD compilation of all of Amy’s work for Pacific Jazz, including Katanga!] – OOP but it can be found, at a price, from Amazon and eBay

Where Are They Now? – The Tough Young Tenors

Posted in The Jazz Continues... with tags , , , , , , , , , , on September 5, 2011 by curtjazz

1991 was a relatively heady time for the jazz business. In addition to all of the reissues of classics on the still ascendant CD technology, record labels were rushing to sign promising young musicians, in their search for another Wynton.

Among them were five tenor saxophonists, brought together for a one-off album by Antilles Records. None of them were well-known at the time, but they were unquestionably gifted. Their names were Walter Blanding, Jr., James Carter, Herb Harris, Tim Warfield, Jr. and Todd Williams. They were called “The Tough Young Tenors”. The title of the album: Alone Together.

Backed by an all-star rhythm section of Marcus Roberts on piano, Reginald Veal on bass and Ben Riley on drums; these brash youngsters showed that they had the goods. In solos, duos and finally in a five sax free-for-all on Sonny Stitt’s classic “The Eternal Triangle”, this album proved to be more than a blowing session – it was one of the best jazz albums of the year. At the time we knew that these cats were all destined for jazz stardom.

It did not turn out that way.

Though they were all on equal footing fame-wise at the time of the recording, they have met with varying degrees of success in the ensuing 20 years. Here, in alphabetical order, is a look at the fortunes of “The Tough Young Tenors”:

Walter Blanding, Jr.

Though he has only one album to his credit (2000’s The Olive Tree), Blanding has been quite active. He has been a member of Wynton Marsalis’ septet and his other recording credits include Marcus Printup and Eric Reed. He’s currently a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. The great Jimmy Heath said about Blanding in the May 2011 issue of JazzTimes, “I call him ‘Walter Spicy’, ’cause there’s nothing bland about him”.

James Carter

(http://jamescarterlive.com/)

Carter is without question, the most commercially successful of the Tough Young Tenors and one of the most well-known jazz musicians of his generation. New York Magazine called him “Jazz’s first rock star” (though I still believe that title belongs to Miles Davis). His debut album JC on the Set took the jazz scene by storm in the year after Alone Together. Carter was just getting started. His 14 albums under his own name between 1992 and 2011, have fearlessly covered the jazz spectrum, from standards, to funk, to avant-garde. He has also made guest appearances with many of jazz’s legends, from Hancock to Golson to Wynton. Already this year, James Carter has released a new album, Caribbean Rhapsody and appeared on his first disc as the newest member of the venerable World Saxophone Quartet, Yes We Can.

What was predicted for all members of the group, Carter has achieved.

Herb Harris

(http://www.herbharrismusicco.com/index.html)

Like many most of the members of the group, Harris logged some time with Wynton, highlighted by his appearance on the Tune in Tomorrow soundtrack. He also appeared on Marcus Roberts’ dynamite Deep in the Shed.  However, he has undeservedly languished in obscurity for most of the last 20 years.  He has released two competent, if unspectacular albums as a leader: NY Daze & Knight, from 2001 and the contemporary flavored Some Many Second Chances in 2009. 

Tim Warfield, Jr.

(http://www.messiah.edu/departments/music/tim_warfield/)

Mr. Warfield has been the most prolific of the TYTs, next to Carter. In addition to releasing six critically acclaimed albums on Criss Cross Records, (his latest is A Sentimental Journey) he has worked with a veritable who’s who of jazz, including Stefon Harris, Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton, Shirley Scott, Jimmy Smith and Terell Stafford. He is currently an artist in residence at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. He also recently accepted an adjunct professor position on Temple University’s music department faculty.

Todd Williams

(http://twilliamsmusic.com/)

Todd Williams spent over a decade with Wynton Marsalis following TYT. He appeared on some of Wynton’s classics, such as the Soul Gestures in Southern Blue series and In This House on This MorningWilliams was also a long time member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.  The quintessential sideman, Williams has yet to release a jazz album as a leader.  Always a man of great faith, Todd decided a few years ago to leave Wynton and the LCJO to concentrate on his duties as minister of music at NYC’s Times Square Church.  At the church, he has produced an album of gospel music and spirituals, called Beautiful Things from AboveWithin the last 18 months, Todd has been quietly making appearances again on the jazz scene, leading a group in the Hudson Valley area and making a notable appearance with pianist Eli Yamin, at a White House gala.

So we find that 20 years later, these tenors are still on the scene and still pretty “tough”. If you haven’t checked any of them out in a while, now is a good time to get reacquainted.