This review may take longer than usual. Before starting, I must write on a blackboard one thousand times, “I will NOT say Birdland again!” For those who missed it, in reviewing Chick Corea’s disc, A Week at the Blue Note, I somehow managed to write that it was “recorded during a week–long gig . . . at New York’s celebrated Birdland nightspot.” How’s that for scrambling the facts? Needless to say, the Blue Note was as unhappy as I was embarrassed. So let us emphasize first that drummer Yoron Israel’s Connection was recorded live in March ’98 at New York’s incomparable Blue Note café, and go from there. What immediately caught my ear on Freddie Hubbard’s “One of a Kind” was Eric Alexander, one of my favorite young tenor players. I’d never heard him blow so freely before — and hope I never do again! Whatever avant–garde virus attacked Eric, he rebounds quickly on “Bemsha Swing” and is fine the rest of the way (and perhaps a notch or two above fine on “Swing” and Jimmy Heath’s prancing “Mellowdrama”). Steve Turre sits in on three numbers, and is especially delightful when playing the shells on Israel’s sunny calypso, “Nostrand Avenue” (his slashing trombone is heard on “One of a Kind” and — too briefly — on Mulgrew Miller’s “Eleventh Hour”). Israel is a talented drummer, but he’s clearly from the Art Blakey–inspired “louder is better” school, which doesn’t always harmonize with these ears. But like Blakey, he does light fires under his sidemen, and that’s a definite plus. Carrott has some interesting things to say, and his presence compensates for the absence of a piano. It’s easy to hear why Israel chose Conly as the group’s bassist; he’s steady as a rock. In fact, everyone works well together, and aside from the opening number, which is somewhat overwrought, this is a largely pleasurable session of mainstream in–concert Jazz from — where else? — the world–famous Blue Note, of course!
Track listing: One of a Kind; Mogadishu; Bemsha Swing; Nostrand Avenue; Amaylah’s Song; Mellowdrama; The Eleventh Hour; Closing Remarks (54:44).
Yoron Israel, drums; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Bryan Carrott, vibes; Ed Cherry, guitar; Sean Conly, bass. With special guest Steve Turre, trombone/shells.