MARC PRATT - Nick Like (Lotta Sax)
by J Hunter
I wrote it before, and I'll write it again: Jazz in the Capital Region might have reached its current qualitative and quantitative level without Nick Brignola
but I kinda doubt it. The 2005 tribute to Nick at North Pointe brought that home, as former players and students of the baritone-sax legend came together to celebrate both the man and his unique instrument. Nick played many other instruments, but the bari was his baby.
So the area jazz scene is solid, but what about the legacy of Nick himself? Who carries that on? The answer is Marc Pratt, a former student of Brignola's, who has picked up the torch and is running hard with it on Nick Like (Lotta Sax).
Pratt has a deep, rich tone that comes with a bevy of ideas, all of which come one after the other as he delves deeper into whatever piece he is playing. He blows hot and cool, simple and complex, and doesn't have a boring or superfluous moment anywhere on the disc, which (except for Hegan and a surprising rendition of A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Square) all comes from Pratt's pen. You can hear classic references - When You Wish Upon Uranus is an obvious takeoff on Jiminy Cricket's signature tune - but the overall musical tone comes from an original place.
The title track, which leads off the disc, is missing a punctuation mark. Instead of Nick Like, it should be Nick-Like, since the sound & spirit of Brignola leaps out of the speakers as Pratt blows the bari on the melody and first solo. Pratt also plays tenor sax on Nick Like, and plays it well, but his major instrumental successes are with the bari - on the title track, on the funky funfest Slacker, and the disc-closing Brignola composition, The Last Of Moe Hegan. The latter track, which flies like a Ferrari going downhill with no brakes, took me back to nights at the front of the stage at Justin's, staring up at Nick and wishing the crowd behind me would stop talking and let me listen.
Nobody does anything by themselves, and Pratt couldn't have a better running partner on Nick Like than Chuck D'Aloia. In addition to gigging with legends like Dave Leibman and Randy Brecker, D'Aloia played and recorded with Nick, and gives Pratt the luxury of using the same musical foil. D'Aloia keeps it classical on the title track, Uranus, and the swirling waltz ESP, but gets downright Scofield on us on Slacker and Moe'n'Mo.
The rhythm section comes from Pratt & D'Aloia's other gigs; bassist Otto Gardner is a former D'Aloia cohort, while Gardner and drummer Bob Halek are the rhythm section for Jazz Voices. There's no question Gardner and Halek laid down a good groove for the soloists on Nick Like, and I'm sure they did some interesting things themselves; I can't confirm it, because the rhythm section is so far back in the mix. Even Gardner's solo on Uranus stays in the background, as if someone either forgot to turn him up or decided it wasn't worth bothering with. It was, and neglecting the rhythm section (even in favor of keeping Pratt as the focal point) was a tactical error.
I called the rendition of Nightingale surprising because it includes a pretty soulful vocal, most ably handled by Pratt himself. First a capella, and then with the band creeping in behind him, Pratt does the lyric straight through, only returning to the tenor to expand on what has come before. It's an interesting choice for two reasons: First, he doesn't need standards to flesh out his material. But second, the vocal gives Nick Like a Chet Baker moment that adds to the nice surprises that dot this disc.
In the liner notes, Pratt opines that he didn't know what he had with Nick until Brignola was gone. While that may be true, Nick Like shows the lessons Brignola imparted to Pratt definitely got through. Now that those lessons are on disc, we all get to learn.
J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.