Paul Kendall/Bob Leto: Red Top (2002)
There’s no denying the love jazz aficionados feel for good, old-fashioned tunes. The kind of smooth, light and sprightly sounds that play it safe but do so with energy have a place in our hearts – or ears, to be exact. Red Top, a new album by tenor saxophonist and flutist Paul Kendall and drummer Bob Leto, has precisely this kind of appeal: its rhythms and tones would be comfortable in any upper-class jazz club where men in suits can’t but help but snap their fingers and lightly bop their heads.
Kendall’s tenor sax has a comfort and energy that isn’t fused with tangible passion exactly, but dances along quite joyfully. This is most notable in the second track, “Secret Love,” which allows Kendall to play with vibrancy against Leto’s expert drumming as well as the album’s impressive backup of Kenny Drew, Jr., on piano, Bobby Forrester, on Organ and John Ray on bass. These boys, especially the prolific Drew, warrant equal notice with their top-billed counterparts.
Occasionally, the players break from their comfort zones, but the music is mostly rooted in traditional motifs: quick, consistently paced drumming, light organ playing and more improvisational for sax and piano soloing. Not a bad thing, exactly, but there’s a threat, in this basic style of approach, for soloists to stand out too far out from their crowd rather than lift the music up as a whole. Still, the drum and organ backup fluidly ties together and ultimately roots Kendall’s lively sax jamming. Drew’s piano playing more organically stems from the rhythmic foundation; he seems confident at jumping out on his own and then back into the group playing.
The group could stand to introduce more variety. It takes about six tracks to get to “Soul Eyes,” a slower, more expressive piece of musical playing that serves as respite from the familiar pacing of the rest of the album. Too often, tracks open with more promise than they ultimately deliver; you almost want the drumming to go on for minutes that opens numbers like “The More I See You,” which begins with a musical smirk and calms down into more lightweight waters. Ultimately, such wishes extend to albums like this, in which the music is played awfully well but eclipses the opportunity to say something to you. Yet, even as they play it pretty close to home, they create fine, solid listening.
Track Listing: 1. Red Top (8:33) 2. Secret Love (8:16) 3. Minority (5:38) 4. Blues By Five (5:01) 5. Dearly Beloved (5:15) 6. Soul Eyes (7:10) 7. I Remember You (5:05) 8. The More I See You (5:41) 9. Girl Talk (6:36)
Personnel: Paul Kendall (saxophone, flute) Bob Leto (drums) Kenny Drew, Jr. (piano) Bobby Forrester (Hammond B3 Organ) John Ray (bass)