Cecil Payne, one of the most commanding and creative baritone voices to emerge from the bop era, is now 77 years old and, we understand, in failing health, but one would never guess that from his latest Delmark release, recorded only last year, on which Payne apparently has no trouble keeping pace with such relative adolescents as Alexander, Davis, Webber and Farnsworth. Even pianist Mabern, hardly wet behind the ears at 63, is a generation younger than Payne. I'm always amazed when someone as enormously talented as Payne is given so few chances to record under his own name. In a more equitable world, record labels would be lined up around the block clamoring for his signature on a contract. In this one he's simply another Jazz musician, no matter how seasoned or talented, and is fortunate to log any studio time at all. When given the chance, however, he makes the most of it, and this is as congenial a bopï"oriented smallï"group session as one is likely to encounter. One of Payne's greatest assets is that his pleasant, fullï"bodied baritone has a personality all its own; another is that he seems thoroughly relaxed and comfortable in any framework from ballad to burner (listen as he teaches the younger players a thing or three on Miles Davis' fleetï"footed "Tune Up ). Not that Alexander, Davis or the others are any slouches when it comes to enkindling fireworks. Alexander, as we've noted before, is one of the brightest stars among contemporary tenor players, one who can hold his horn aloft in any company no matter how formidable his adversaries. Davis, a member of Alexander's working group One for All, is a technically and creatively strong slideman who often reveals a J.J. Johnson influence, while Mabern, a sureï"handed and adaptable warrior, is at ease in almost any situation. As for Webber and Farnsworth, they hold things together like Elmer's Glueï"All. High marks too for Payne's compositions, four of which open the date, even though his warmhearted tribute to "Martin Luther King Jr. sounds a lot like "Chelsea Bridge ï" and speaking of bridges, the one that spans the following number, "James, is (intentionally) the nursery rhyme "Mary Had a Little Lamb. Payne is on baritone all the way except for George Gershwin's "Delilah, on which he plays flute, and has the spotlight to himself (with the rhythm section) on the ballad "Lover Man. Davis wrote "Payne's Window, Benny Carter the amiably sunny "Southside Samba. As noted, bopï"centered sessions don't come much better than this, and at 73:39 it delivers full value for the buck as well.
Track listing: Spiritus Parkus; Martin Luther King Jr.; James; That's It Blues; Payne's Window; Southside Samba; Lover Man; Tune Up; Delilah; Hold Tight (73:39).
Cecil Payne, baritone saxophone, flute; Eric Alexander, tenor saxophone; Steve Davis, trombone; Harold Mabern, piano; John Webber, bass; Joe Farnsworth, drums.