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Here’s a lesson for all the young saxophone players out there who are so keen to focus on the past. Septuagenarian saxophonist James Moody, who was a fixture in Dizzy Gillespie’s band for many years, may have some reverence for his past, but his approach is resolutely about moving forward. His first record in six years, Homage , is a testament to that ethic, with a sound that is absolutely contemporary and all about keeping things vital.
Mixing the occasional standard and Moody staple with a number of new pieces written for the project by artists including Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, it becomes difficult to know who is paying homage to whom. The Zawinul track, “A Message to Moody,” which is actually an improvisation adapted by keyboardist Scott Kinsey, could easily fit within the Weather Report oeuvre. With world rhythms and signature vocal-like synthesizers, Moody plays Shorter to Kinsey’s Zawinul. The result is a piece that demonstrates that Moody is not satisfied to rest on his considerable laurels, but instead strives to be evolutionary, if not revolutionary.
Key to the success of the recording is beautiful wind and brass arrangements by producer Bob Belden. With his own recordings, including Black Dahlia , Belden has demonstrated that he has a succinct sense of instrument placement. And while Moody, no slouch on flute himself, stays exclusively with tenor saxophone, Belden creates pays his own homage with lush flute pads on tracks including “Lazy Afternoon,” and Hancock’s “Into the Shadows.”
A standout track amongst an album of high points is James Newton Howard’s “Main Title: Glengarry, Glenross.” Bristling with energy, Moody delivers a solo that begs the question why he is considered legendary in the past tense, as he is clearly as capable of fitting into a contemporary context as Kenny Garrett and Chris Potter. Pianist David Hazeltine, who is surely one of modern jazz’s best kept secrets, has a touch all his own, whether it is the acoustic on “Glengarry, Glenross,” or electric on Corea’s Latin-tinged “Moody Tune.”
Moody’s own “Simplicity and Beauty,” which features Vic Juris on acoustic guitar, is an exercise in space and elegance, as bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Billy Kilson, in an unusually restrained performance, provide a blues-drenched backdrop for Moody to explore.
The one misstep on the record is the closer, “Love Was the Cause for All Good Things,” which puts layers Moody on a hip-hop track, and even has him delivering a somewhat humorous but ultimately forgettable rap. With the rest of Homage asserting, in a completely honest and natural way, Moody’s continued growth as an artist, this track comes across as superfluous shtick. But being the only negative on an album filled with positives it is easily dismissed, and should not stop anyone from checking out an album that is filled with excitement and revelation.
Track Listing: A Message to Moody; Lazy Afternoon; Into the Shadows; Main Title: Glengarry, Glenross; Simplicity and Beauty; We All Love Moody; Moody Tune; And Then Again; Homage; When Lucy Smiles At Me; Love Was the Cause for All Good Things
Personnel: James Moody (tenor saxophone, rap), Scott Kinsey (keyboards, programming, Fender Rhodes electric piano, acoustic piano), Hans Glawischnig (electric bass, acoustic bass), Billy Kilson (drums), Don Alias (congas, percussion), Lou Marini (alto flute, flute), Lawrence Feldman (bass flute, alto flute, flute), Charles Pillow (English horn), David Hazeltine (acoustic piano), Anthony Pinciotti (drums), Jim Rotundi (flugelhorn), David Gibson (trombone), John Clark (French horn), Vic Juris (acoustic guitar), Todd Coolman (acoustic bass), Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), Mostly Bandits (vocals), The Kid Next Door (all other sounds), Bob Belden (wind and brass arrangements)