3. Along Came Betty
4. Fried Bananas
7. A Time For Love
8. I’ll Remember April
10. Time Alone With You
11. Nica’s Dream
Cliff Brucker (Drums)
Leo Russo (Tenor & Alto sax)
Dylan Canterbury (Trumpet/Flug)
Larry Ham (Piano)
Mike Novakowski (Guitar)
Otto Gardner (Bass)
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by Tom Pierce
Bill McCann introduced this excitingly propulsive and accessibly melodic Post-Bop sextet recording in April on his award-winning 31 year WCDB “Saturday Morning Edition of Jazz” show with several choice tracks. My initial fascination with it centered on the delightful tone, uplifting swing and phrasing of the timeless saxophone of Leo Russo. My appreciation increased after ordering & listening to all 11 tunes (ten memorable Jazz classics and one original), after catching two swinging sets by the same exceptional band live on May 1 at their CD Release Party at Stoney’s Grill in Schenectady.
Right off the bat, their surging treatment of Benny Golson’s 1955 composition, “Stablemates”, a periennal Bop favorite, jump-starts the recording with a series of strong ensemble statements & robust solos by the horns, guitar and piano. The next 3 tracks, which are all also swingers, in slightly varying tempos, (adroitly & steadily supported by Otto Gardner and Cliff Brucker), consistently “keep the ball rolling”. These three include Tadd Dameron’s signature “Ladybird”, with the warm guitar touch & phrasing of Mike Novakowski especially grabbing my attention); as well as Golson’s powerful “Along Came Betty”, written during his tenure with Art Blakey and lastly the stimulating “Fried Bananas” composed by one of my favorite tenors, Dexter Gordon. That one spotlights the versatile, experienced piano of Larry Ham, an extensive veteran of many stellar bands throughout this country and abroad.
The fifth number, the poignantly touching 1960 standard “Estate” popularized initially by a Joao Gilberto version slows the pace, but in its own way, still vibrantly holds one’s attention - just with that compelling, uniquely Brazilian melancholy vibe, termed “Saudade”. Next up, was Kenny Barron’s popular classic “Voyage” - introduced as the title track of the widely lauded Stan Getz 1986 recording with the composer on piano. Here, I especially enjoyed the ebullient approach and wide range of Dylan Canterbury, reminding me of Dizzy Gillespie.
Johnny Mandel’s compelling, sensitive ballad “A Time for Love” has attracted numerous vocalists through the years, as well as many expressive instrumentalists, like Leo Russo, showcased here on alto. Here he evoked for me pleasing memories of the uniquely stirring Paul Desmond. The CD also gives a respectful nod to the dynamic Horace Silver, with the inclusion of a strongly delivered version of his Latin-styled “Nica’s Dream”. This tune was a tribute to the invaluable patron support of Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter. A close friend of Thelonious Monk and other greats.
I also enjoyed the band’s version of “Minority”, GiGi Gryce’s 1956 minor-key favorite of many musicians in the classic bop era - roughly 1953-65. It’s another good example (like the Tadd Dameron, Benny Golson & Horace Silver selections) of Brucker’s familiarity with the interesting & creative harmonic approaches of these creative 1960’s musicians, who were skilled in producing more than just “Blowing Sessions”.
As dynamic and timeless as all these classics were, If this observer had to single out the one selection he personally found the most moving, it would have to be Brucker’s heart-felt original “Time Alone With You”, a truly touching ballad tribute to his wife Denise. It starts with a incredibly smooth, very warm opening melody statement by Leo Russo that morphs just beautifully into yet another stunning melody reading by Dylan Canterbury; then a rich horn ensemble section, followed by a succession of insightful horn solos, with Larry Ham sensitively perceptive comping & then his own invigorating solo, while Cliff & Otto Gardner steadily maintain the appropriate low flame rhythmic cushion. I can’t describe all this in precise technical terms; but will just say I found myself replaying this song on my iPod over & over, more than a dozen times, while thinking the Bruckers must have a wonderfully inspiring marriage.
When one considers all the musical elements Cliff Brucker conceived & managed so well to create this exceptional and satisfying recording, it’s hard to believe that it was his FIRST one as a LEADER, after over 35 years in the business. Bravo!
Tom Pierce has had a burning passion for Jazz for over 50 years, initiated and fueled by seeing live in New York City, starting in the early 1960's, virtually every major artist still performing. He's been very happily living in Guilderland since 2001, as an active retiree sharing his love of music by writing online reviews for a number of web sites, preparing DVD presentations to various groups, co-Hosting Radio programs showcasing his favorite artists and busily supporting A Place for Jazz in a variety of ways.