Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

JAZZ | SPOTLIGHT

Artists Keep Saxophone at the Forefront of Jazz

April 08, 2001|DON HECKMAN | Don Heckman writes frequently about jazz for The Times

It's probably too broad a generalization to describe the saxophone as the sole jazz instrument of change. But its influence, from the sweeping glissandos of Johnny Hodges and hard-bitten muscularity of Coleman Hawkins to the breakthrough genius of Charlie Parker and the probing passions of John Coltrane, has been undeniable.

There's no better evidence than the array of CDs that arrive regularly, from players young and old, their stylistic efforts touching almost every era of jazz history. Here's a quick look at a sampling of current saxophone outings.

*

Benny Golson. "One Day, Forever" (* * * , Arkadia). It's hard to believe that Golson has been around long enough for a 40-year retrospective, but here it is. And the predominant thought that it triggers is the fervent hope that his still fertile talent has many more years in which to be productive. The material included, recorded over a four-year period, is extremely far-reaching. A sextet-including a final collaboration with trumpeter Art Farmer-performs such familiar items as "Killer Joe," 'Along Came Betty" and "Blues Walk." Shirley Horn sings a pair of Golson ballads, accompanied by the dark-sounding textures of an all-cello string ensemble. A classically styled piece, "On Gossamer Wings," is performed by pianist Lara Downes. The sextet performances won't replace the original versions (some with the Golson-Farmer Jazztet), but they are fascinating retrospectives, with much of the electricity in the performances generated by pianist Geoff Keezer rather than the horn players. The Shirley Horn performances-on "One Day, Forever" and "Sad to Say," two sensual Golson tunes that other singers should consider-are among the album's highlights. "On Gossamer Wings'-a bit out of context in a jazz album but evidence of Golson's extensive skills-is performed capably by Downes, who clearly understands its Chopinesque qualities.

*

Chris Potter. "Gratitude" (* * * , Verve). Potter, who turned 30 in January, has the capacity to emerge as an important jazz saxophonist. His live performances, most recently at the Knitting Factory with Dave Douglas, reveal a talented artist with an imagination to match his prodigious technical skills. Despite some extraordinary playing, however, "Gratitude" doesn't quite match what he has shown in club appearances. One of the reasons is probably the theme of the album, which represents Potter's acknowledgment of his most admired influences. Their presence seems to have made it hard for him to resist, perhaps even unconsciously, making tiny references-little Sonny Rollins-like runs, sweeping John Coltrane lines. His choice of instruments-soprano saxophone on "Eurydice" (for Wayne Shorter) and alto saxophone on "Star Eyes" (for Charlie Parker) further tends to delineate the reference points, a bit too much in some cases. (He does, however, take a different tack when he handles "Body and Soul" on bass clarinet rather than tenor saxophone.) The net result is that Potter's own musical personality remains elusive and not especially well-defined. There's no denying his remarkable virtuosity or his capacity to move effortlessly across genre lines. Still, the decision to have Potter make his Verve label debut with a tribute to other saxophonists seems an odd choice for a young player still establishing his own identity in the mind of the jazz audience.

*

Scott Hamilton. "Jazz Signatures" (* * * , Concord). Interestingly, this latest in a long line of Hamilton albums for Concord takes a thematic approach closely related to the Potter production. In this case, however, the organizing thesis is a program of pieces composed by other jazz artists-from Billy Strayhorn's "Raincheck" and Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" to Benny Carter's "When Lights Are Low" and Tadd Dameron's "If You Could See Me Now." The difference is that Hamilton's musical persona is firmly established, and he is that rarity among contemporary jazz artists-a player who is almost instantly recognizable, even by the casual observer. Playing with typical ebullience, he delivers everything with the sort of lift that makes foot-tapping almost inevitable.

*

John Surman. "Coruscating" (* * 1/2, ECM). Is it a jazz album? There are those who would say that the combination of Surman's saxophones and clarinets with a string ensemble has nothing to do with jazz. But the question needs to be turned around. Could the music here-however atmospheric it may be-have been created by anyone other than a jazz artist? The answer is probably not. Surman's compositions are indeed lacking in the rhythmic push and the blues-tinged lines that one ordinarily associates with jazz. Contemporary concert music is what comes to mind in many of the passages, with their long, often dissonant tonal clusters and sudden flurries of movement.

Harold Land. "Promised Land" (* * 1/2, Audiophoric). Memories are profuse in this teaming of tenor saxophonist Land with drummer Billy Higgins, recorded in August in La Jolla. Land's playing is indelibly imprinted in the musical images of the classic Clifford Brown recordings of the early '50s-works in which Brown's stunning improvisations tended to overshadow the superb work being done by Land. The combination of urgency and precision in his work from that period is not always present in a program that embraces a pair of standards ('What's New?" and "Like Someone in Love'), three Land originals and Thelonious Monk's rarely heard "Ugly Beauty." But Land compensates with a mature musical overview, pianist Mulgrew Miller offers some beautifully articulated solos, while bassist Ray Drummond and Higgins lay down a carpet of rhythm.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|