With more than a dozen discs as a leader under his belt, Vincent Herring has developed a foolproof prescription for making great records: employ compatible sidemen, choose appealing compositions and approach the music with zealous devotion. On Mr. Wizard
the brilliant saxophonist follows this formula faultlessly and the result is another rewarding listening experience. Herring has one of the most recognizable voices on alto saxophone in music today and is increasingly developing his own personality on soprano as well, as heard on three of the nine tunes here. Joined by young veterans of his recent recordings—trumpeter Jeremy Pelt, bassist Richie Goods, drummer E.J. Strickland and an impressive newcomer in pianist Danny Grissett—the leader navigates his quintet through a program mainly comprised of originals by the group’s members.
Beginning with a bebopping arrangement of “All God’s Children Got Rhythm,” featuring alternating alto and trumpet calls and responses in the melody and four bar exchanges with Strickland, the band shows where it’s coming from before Goods’ “Citizen Of Zamunda,” with its modernistic Native American sounding melody and rhythm featuring the leader’s soprano, demonstrates where it can go. Grissett’s “Hopscotch,” named for its stuttering introduction, is an engaging line that might easily be mistaken for a Horace Silver classic. Herring’s impassioned alto is particularly attractive on “You Leave Me Breathless.”
The quintet fires up McCoy Tyner’s tricky “Four By Five” with admirable aplomb, breathing new life into a classic from a still neglected period of the jazz repertory. A second Grissett original, “Encounters,” is an harmonic exploration of the territory originally mined by Miles Davis’ ‘60s quintet, with the entire group blending into an expressive impressionism propelled by Strickland’s provocative percussion discussions. A pair from the pen of Pelt, “Cassius” and “The Walk Home,” the former a swinging affair and the latter a pensive waltz, demonstrates the trumpeter’s strength as a composer. Herring wraps up the date with his own “Mr. Wizard,” a Jazz Messengerish anthem that gives everybody in the band the kind of workout you can expect to hear in one of their exciting live performances.
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This review originally appeared in AllAboutJazz-New York .
Personnel: Vincent Herring: Alto Sax, Soprano Sax;
Danny Grissett: Piano;
Richie Goods: Bass;
Jeremy Pelt: Trumpet;
E.J. Strickland: Drums.