There were those who came before him on the horn, but Pepper Adams established himself as one of the first baritone saxophonists to truly test his instrument in freer improvisational contexts. His work with Mingus’ Workshop offers ample evidence to the truth of the claim. Just drop the needle on Blues and Roots,
for instance, specifically “Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting,” for a taste of his ability to blow ecstatically without losing sight of the traits that make his horn such a powerful vessel of melodic force. Directly in that lineage, but wholly his own man, stands the stout frame of Alex Harding, an admitted Pepper freak and fellow Motor City native. For his second CIMP date he and his partners, the house rhythm team of Rosen and Duval, choose to pay respect to Adams through a slideshow of standards that reference the whole of jazz history for Waller to Hancock. Harding bookends the program with a pair of brief but highly personal tone poems that add to the intimate flavor of the session.
There’s some heavy, heavy soul infused through these sounds with Harding’s Motown roots rising righteously from the virile musical soil. Duval and Rosen share it too and they give as good as their erstwhile front man. Cedar Walton’s “Bolivia” canters along on a clip-clop Latin beat and grooving bass ostinato as Harding weaves and bobs both playfully and ardently in his deeply expressive articulations. Duval dances thick fingers across strings in a solo that seems to suggest his desire to stretch beyond the comparatively simple harmonic structures of the tune. Rosen sounds similarly constricted in his time-keeping roll and tries to spice things up with a splash of aggressive press rolls. Showing off the egalitarian plumage of the trio’s union beautifully “Dolphin Dance” commences with a meaty strings workout from Duval who is eventually joined by the pitter-patter of Rosen’s feathery brushes. Harding’s gorgeously rotund tone muscles in on the action and it’s once again an ensemble affair. “Julian,” composed by Adams in homage to his son, delivers the balladic goods and a chance to hear Harding’s softer side. Compared to the perennially populous tenor ranks, today’s baritone saxophonists seem a relatively rare breed. Bluiett has perhaps the highest profile amongst the small cadre of players who favor the full-throated horn, but a few years hence Harding may see a passing of the torch.
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Track Listing: Invocation/ Bolivia/ Dolphin Dance/ Goodbye Porkpie Hat/ Julian/ Eternal
Triangle/ Lament/ You Don
Personnel: Alex Harding- baritone saxophone; Dominic Duval- bass; Jay Rosen-
drums. Recorded: June 6 & 7, 2002, Rossie, NY.