In the years since Gerry Mulligan's death, a number of albums have been recorded in tribute to the great baritone saxophonist and cool jazz patriarch. Kerry Strayer's Jeru Blue
, his debut release on the Palmetto label, certainly deserves consideration as one of the best.
Strayer, a Kansas City baritone saxophonist and bandleader, has written eight fresh arrangements of Mulligan compositions and added a terrific original, the title tune, which fits solidly in the Mulligan mode. He has also managed to assemble the entire rhythm section from Mulligan's final quartet: Ted Rosenthal on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, and Ron Vincent, who also produced the album, on drums. This tremendously cohesive unit provides the backbone for some exceptional ensemble playing. Strayer is joined in the top-notch front line by Randy Brecker on trumpet and fluegelhorn, John Mosca on trombone, and Ted Nash on tenor sax and flute.
The selectionsincluding such varied fare as "Rio One," "Festive Minor," "Tell Me When," and "Dragonfly"highlight Mulligan's contributions to cool jazz, bossa nova, and modern big band jazz. The arrangements are crisp, fluid, and energetic, and the soloists are all first-rate, with Brecker, Rosenthal, Mosca, and Nash each given plenty of room to shine. Strayer himself is a superb, thoughtful player who acquits himself well on both up-tempo numbers and quiet, moody ballads like "Night Lights (The Lonely Night)."
If you're a fan of Gerry Mulligan (and you should be), you'd be well-advised to check out this exciting new examination of his legacy.