Two-tenor groups are not new to jazz. They have been a little stream in the music's progression, from pairings like Lester Young and Herschel Evans in the seminal '30s Basie band to small groups like the popular one once led by Johnny Griffin and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, tenors have mixed it up on stage and, of course, in recordings. Kudos to producer Bob Porter for pairing Los Angeles legend Red Holloway with everyone's perennial favorite, Frank Wess.
The music that Holloway and Wess produce here is big and burly. Not exactly like the old cutting contests that were so prevalent in pre-World War II jazz, there is still a spirit of competition and these two masters play their hearts out.
One of the most special moments here is also one of the quietest, "Indian Summer." This old warhorse, said to be Basie's favorite, is caressed by both men (with Holloway on alto), an afterglow performance ripe with sentiment, without ever lapsing into bathos.
More typical of the session, however, are treats like "Still Groovin'" with strains of "Night Train" in evidence, as well as the unison tenors on the jumping blues "3 Steps Up Clark." Tracks like Helen Humes' "Million Dollar Secret," though competent, do little to elevate the session. "Good to Go," however, closes things out with a flourish. The preaching tenors; the on-the-spot, insistent drumming of Paul Humphrey; Dr. Lonnie Smith's perfect organ accompaniment; and the pithy solos of Melvin Sparks' guitar infuse this medium-up blues with a human touch.
If there is one drawback to this session, it is that it does not look ahead. It is a wonder of our time that sessions like this can thrive next to the most experimental. And while it is still vital for musicians to look back, they should also look forward. If the principals had just considered, say, the classic Blue Note era, other sympathetic material is there. Perhaps we can have a second helping of Holloway and Wess exploring a wider swath of jazz compositions.
Between them, Holloway and Wess have performed with a host of jazz and blues greats. The first time I saw Holloway he was backing Abbey Lincoln at the long-gone Parisian Room in Watts. He had it then and he has it now.
Track Listing: Still Groovin', Avalon, 3 Steps Up Clark, Indian Summer, Struttin' with Julie, Water Jug, Million Dollar Secret, Good to Go
Personnel: Red Holloway, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone (4), vocal (7); Frank Wess, tenor saxophone; Dr. Lonnie Smith, organ; Melvin Sparks, guitar; Paul Humphrey, drums