Chicago has long been the land of the larger than life jazz tenors. Boasting a lineage that stretches back generations the Windy City has birthed some of the music’s most venerated big-toned saxophonists. Clifford Jordan, Gene Ammons, Von Freeman, Fred Anderson and Eric Alexander are but a handful of the names belonging to this fraternity of famous foghorn stylists. This disc makes a persuasive case for Ousely’s addition to their celebrated ranks.
While not his first date as a leader, this recent session by Delmark may prove the boost Ousley needs to get his name out among the masses. He’s been on the scene since the 50s gigging with greats like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Sun Ra and Howard McGhee, but like so many of his peers the majority of recording dates available to him throughout his long career were as a sideman. Such is not the case here, and Ousley makes the most of the opportunity crafting a relaxed string of swingers, ballads and blues that showcase the sultry and emotive sides of his horn. Aiding and abetting the cause is a crack rhythm team of Chicago session men led by the estimable Jodie Christian, a man who has also paid his dues (and bills) in the sideman slot. The legendary Art Hoyle even chimes in for a spell on Ousley’s own Latin-fueled “El Senioree.”
Smoothly arranged standards and tastefully rendered originals coexist in a program that ambles along at a pleasant pace. Ousley and Christian predictably sequester the most solo space for themselves, but this after all a mainstream blowing date and such conventions are to be expected. The fact that they both make such gorgeous use of it more than justifies any slight to the rest of the rhythm section. Ousley’s velveteen turn on the lengthy reading of “Night Song” tugs gently at the sentimental side blanketing any frayed auditory nerves in a soothing paregoric of sounds. Strayhorn’s classic “Lush Life” is accorded equally regal treatment and the deep coquettish rasp that saturates Ousley’s tone on this one makes a strong play for the rendering’s place in any couple’s romantic after hours soundtrack. Ousley turns up the gas and the sass on “Grit-Gittin’ Feelin’” locking on a swaying beat and bluesy refrain. As an alternately steaming and smoldering slice of unexpurgated Chicago hard bop this disc definitely hits the spot.
Personnel: Harold Ousely- tenor saxophone; Jodie Christian- piano; John Whitfield- bass; Robert Shy- drums; Art Hoyle- trumpet*.