Claire Daly sent a copy of her self-produced album, Heaven Help Us All, with a note saying she hoped I would like it. Well, what can I say? Claire is one of the finest young baritone saxophonists on the scene (as Down Beat magazine's recent "Rising Star" designation affirms), and notwithstanding its metaphysical undertones, the album is chock-full of irresistible melodies and spirited blowing (pardon the pun) by Daly, vibraphonist Warren Smith and the backup trio, Solar (Eli Yamin, piano; Adam Bernstein, bass; Andy Demos, drums). So rest easy, Clairehere's a (modified) yes, I like it.
The qualifier is necessary because I was unable to warm to Kirpal Gordon's "spoken word" commentaries on "Theme for Eulipions/What We Got Against Tyranny" and "Evil Ways/Don't Dismiss the Blues" (sorry, but I never went in for lantern shine, never saw moonbeams in my wine, and never cared much for abstruse poetry either), and Napoleon Maddox's "human beat box" adds nothing to "Heavenly," "Eulipions" or the finale, a poignant reprise of Stevie Wonder's plea, "Heaven Help Us All."
On the other hand, Daly plays sublimely, as always, and sings agreeably too (on "Heavenly" and the second version of "Heaven Help Us All"), complementing forceful statements by Smith, Yamin and Bernstein. Also in the celestial realm are John Coltrane's prayerful "Dear Lord" and Walter Donaldson's idealistic "My Blue Heaven." Setting aside halos and wings, the ensemble eagerly plumbs the underworld on "Ol' Devil Moon" and "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," two of the more wickedly appetizing morsels on the menu, and could be alluding to Beelzebub again on Bernstein's roguish "Small Evil Man." Completing the program is Yamin's brooding "Jacquet's Meditation."
I'll not comment further on the lyrics to "Heaven Help Us All" except to say that in light of recent events, at home and abroad, they are most timely and appropriate. Daly clearly wanted to send a message, and she has. In fact, she has sent twoone a prayerful solicitation, the other a more down-to-earth missive strongly reinforcing her position as one of the jazz world's brightest new stars on baritone sax.
Track Listing: Dear Lord; Between The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea; Heaven Help Us All; Heavenly; Ol' Devil Moon; Theme for the Eulipions/What We Got
Against Tyranny; Jacquet's Meditation; The Small But Evil Man; Evil Ways/Don't Dismiss The Bliss; My Blue Heaven; Heaven Help Us All (reprise).
Personnel: Claire Daly: baritone saxophone, vocals (4, 11); Eli Yamin: piano; Andy Bernstein: bass; Andy Demos: drums; Warren Smith: vibes, percussion; Kirpal Gordon: spoken word (6, 9); Napoleon Maddox: human beat box (4, 6, 11).