Larry McKenna: From All Sides (2013)
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Larry McKenna's tenor saxophone playing is addictive. It's like driving a Maserati: you're probably going to want to take it on the road again and again, because it is so elegant and finely engineered. A product of the late swing band era (he did a turn with Woody Herman), McKenna has kept rigorously on a course that started with Lester Young and culminated with Stan Getz. He has honed that genre to such perfection that today he provides the gold standard.
In this album, McKenna takes his Maserati for a spin that involves a degree of risk. He gathers together eight sidemen and a vocalist (Joanna Pascale), each of whom is a rugged individualist, and strives to make them work together seamlessly. In addition, he offers eight original tunes, four with lyrics by his recent sidekick Melissa Gilstrap, thus taking a leap into composing and arranging, a talent which he has kept secreted in a vault he has previously opened only to a few admiring associates. (He reportedly has sequestered a huge cache of original charts.) McKenna succeeds in bringing all this diverse talent together into a coherent whole, mainly because his own playing is the magnificent jewel that shines through it all, and also because most of the other players work with him frequently and have enormous respect for him. So they adjust.
Thanks to the sound engineer, Glenn Ferracone, himself a seasoned drummer, the recording has the presence and spontaneity of a live performance reminiscent of Rudy Van Gelder's iconic studio recordings of greats like John Coltrane and other pioneers of the hard bop era. The standards, "Everything I've Got," "That Old Black Magic," "September Song," and "I'll Never Be the Same" swing brightly and include marvelous improvisations by virtually all the players. The piquant lyrics of Melissa Gilstrap are set off nicely by McKenna's understated melodic turns. And McKenna's instrumental originals, "Samba de Else," and "You're It," are beautifully arranged to include subtle interplays among the diverse musicians.
Both the horns and the rhythm section are virtuosos at the top of their game. Special notice should be given to George Rabbai, the great bebop trumpeter, who plays with his usual quickness, sensitivity and panache, and Joe McDonough, one of few trombonists capable of the lush, smooth sound ofUrbie Green who nevertheless achieves the clever phraseology of Frank Rosolino. The combined styles of McKenna, Rabbai, and McDonough, along with the four McKenna/Gilstrap songs, provide the unique flavorings that make this album stand out in the crowd.
Track Listing: Everything I’ve Got; One Falling Tree; That Old Black Magic; The Close
Things; September Song; Friends for a While; Samba de Else; Side
Stepping; I’ll Never Be the Same; Action Blues; Christmas is Being with
You; You’re It.
Personnel: Larry McKenna: tenor saxophone; Joanna Pascale: vocals (tracks 2, 4,
6. 11); George Rabbai: trumpet (4, 8. 11) and flugelhorn (7); Joe
McDonough: trombone (2-8, 11); Tom Lawton: piano (1, 4 7-12); Joshua
Richman: piano (2, 3, 5, 6); Kevin McConnell: bass (1-3, 5, 6, 9, 10,
12); Lee Smith: bass (4, 7, 8, 11); Pete Smyser: guitars (2, 3, 5, 7,
11); Dan Monaghan: drums.
Record Label: Self Produced