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Continuing in his quarter-century tenure with Concord Records, Scott Hamilton is still finding fresh concepts for presenting his pre-bop tenor sax sound that went against the grain of the fusion groups when he first started recording. Taking his cue from masters like Ben Webster or Don Byas, rather than Wayne Shorter, Hamilton continued their pioneering tradition of the tenor sax as a voice-like instrument with universal emotional appeal.
Hamilton pays tribute to those originators, who merged melodic urgency with emotional content, as well as to others who had the same effect in extending the vocabulary of jazz within boundaries accepted by the general public. His concept on Jazz Signatures is a simple one: recognizing through his own style the jazz artists who left their own mark on the genre, unobtrusively and yet indelibly.
His choices are sometimes telling.
Don Byas in particular is an insightful choice, Byas’ work inspiring other tenor players, even as he faded from public recognition after his move to Europe. Playing “Byas A Drink” with a light Latin-tinged approach, Hamilton stresses the richness of tone combined with the appeal of the improvisational lines. In addition, Hamilton goes against convention by recognizing Illinois Jacquet with a slower, evocative "You Left Me All Alone,” instead of the “signature” number, “Flying Home.”
Pianists are included in Hamilton’s signatures as well, particularly Fats Waller, whose “Jitterbug Waltz” breezes along more aggressively and perhaps less unctuously than one would expect from the saxophonist. Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” proceeds with a light swing, Hamilton’s long tones stretching the phrasing from one chorus into the next as he lightly bends notes and adds swelling dynamics to a single note, similar to Stan Getz’s approach. And Billy Strayhorn is counted among the pianists. Hamilton animates “Raincheck” with an effortless and mature interpretation that has no need at all for gimmickry. Hank Jones’ “Angel Face” is more delicate, Hamilton’s full sound stressing the logic of its harmonic development, the meandering theme eventually weaving into a satisfying conclusion.
But then the last track honors a pianist important to Hamilton’s career, John Bunch, who accompanies him throughout the album. The person who introduced Hamilton to Benny Goodman in the 1970’s, and who thus helped launch Hamilton’s career, Bunch has stayed in touch with the saxophonist through the years. Their relationship continues, as shown on Jazz Signatures, which they recorded last year in Wimbleton, England after a gig at London’s Pizza Express (where, by the way, Mose Allsoin recorded The Mose Chronicles, Vol. One. “John’s Bunch,” however, ends the project on a high note, its shuffle rhythm propelling the quartet into its controlled frenzy and then dramatically closing the CD with rolling chords, trills, growls and a blue note.
Track Listing: Raincheck, In Your Own Sweet Way, Jitterbug Waltz, If You Could See Me Now, Move, Byas A Drink, You Left Me All Alone, When Lights Are Low, Angel Face, John
Personnel: Scott Hamilton, tenor sax; John Bunch, piano; Dave Green, bass; Steve Brown, drums