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…