This is a stomping band, as Coleman Hawkins said of the Fletcher Henderson orchestra he and the hitherto mostly awkward tenor saxophone grew up together with. Louis Armstrong and his hero the great cellist Pablo Casals inspired Hawkins' phrasing and timing, Art Tatum and J.S. Bach his harmonic command. His nickname "Bean" referred to high intelligence, he was an instrumental virtuoso with immense stamina and invention qua improviser, a passionate complex man never to be underrated.
The extraordinary "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" which concludes this 2004 Hawkins centenary concert from Berlin is very appropriate. Swinging fiercely with mostly just Alvin Queen's magnificent drumming, Bennie Wallace exhibits his own stamina in impassioned tenor saxophone emulation of a Bach solo invention; and that's only the climax, after a startling arrangement and succession of stirring solos: an ideal centenary celebration.
Wallace comes out of the Hawkins school: no imitator, where he sounds very like Hawkins that's a natural aspect of his own way, and what he's playing. On "Body and Soul" he's entirely individual, and has maybe never played more beautifully.
In this stomping band Stafford and Anderson can each sound like two men in ensemble, Anthony Wilson's bop-slanted arrangements are subtle or driving as appropriate, and Donald Vega's atmospheric, often extended piano introductions risk overshadowing his solo work elsewhere. Hawkins wasn't Henderson's only major soloist: I hadn't previously heard young Leali, Schroeder, Vega and Boller and want to hear more. Jesse Davis I know. Where he and Leali solo in succession then trade passages theye are plainly individual stylists.
That's on "Honeysuckle Rose," the one non-Wilson chart. Wallace organised it with reminiscences of Benny Carter's great arrangements and brilliant transcription of a passage James P. Johnson delivered in his piano solo recording of the number. Subtlety's one thing, but there's also none of that carefulness which can afflict deliveries of arrangements of music with a vintage. This is musical performance, and no pastiche. Listen to the bluesiness and slow stride of Vega's intro.
Henderson's recorded performances were restricted by technology: time limits. They couldn't unfold with the freedom, relaxation and fire Hawkins remembered. This is of course a live performance, nobody worried about finishing within any time limit, and the only "Disorder" was a word in the opening stomper's title.
Stafford's immense tone powers in ensemble, and blazes in solo. The master colourist trombonist Anderson is involved in the one brief wobble, his sound and Wallace's don't blend in their brief ensemble unison on "La Rosita," whoops! But Anderson's solo immediately thereafter has an amazing transition from harshness to luminous transparency. He delivers a differently magnificent eruption on "Honeysuckle Rose," and preaches on "Joshua..."
Wallace's tenor is properly to the fore throughout, with here an altoist, there Schroeder's baritone, performing a substantial solo as the middle section of an extended development Wallace himself has begun; and subsequently proceeds to bring to extended climax. He's a giant tenorist. This is a great and not merely stomping band.
Personnel: Bennie Wallace: tenor saxophone, leader; Brad Leali: alto saxophone; Jesse Davis: alto saxophones Adam Schroeder: baritone saxophone; Ray Anderson: trombone; Terell Stafford; trumpet; Donald Vega: piano; Danton Boller: bass; Alvin Queen: drums; Anthony Wilson: arranger.