Rodney Whitaker: Winter Moon (2004)
Having left the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra to pursue his own career, Whitaker is clearly developing as a composer and band leader. Bringing back saxophonist Ron Blake, pianist Eric Reed and drummer Carl Allen from his 1999 release, Ballads & Blues , it is obvious that the chemistry shown on that recording has only increased in the intervening years. The quartet plays like they mean it; from the up-tempo “For Garrison” to the slow walk of “Fall,” which features a tender introduction by Reed, the interplay between the players is palpable; one can feel the give-and-take, the push-and-pull amongst them.
Whitaker plays hand-in-glove with Allen, who emulates Elvin Jones’ loose sense of time and unerring groove on his own “Sacrifice.” Allen, in fact, has claimed that his “ultimate goal is to get to a level like Art Blakey, Art Taylor, Elvin Jones and Billy Higgins... who, every time they sit down behind a set of drums it's swinging.” With a résumé including Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, Woody Shaw and Cyrus Chestnut—and the convincing evidence of his work on this recording—he has clearly reached his goal.
Combining the hard swing of Jimmy Garrison with the lithe lyricism of Milt Hinton, Whitaker is creating his own distinct niche. On “John Lewis,” a tune that pays fitting tribute to Lewis’ combination of cool jazz with a classical sensibility, he alternates between a clear and sensuous arco style and a relaxed pizzicato swing.
Reed successfully combines elegance with a more rhythm-heavy approach. On his own “Beauty and the Beast,” with its quirky theme, he alternates between rhythmic ostinato and staggering flurries of notes, his imagination taking full reign. Add a trumpet to the front line and this track would be a fitting homage to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.
Blake, who has spent time as a key member of Roy Hargove’s band, has a full-bodied sound and an approach which builds on influences as diverse as Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin and Stanley Turrentine. He can take it out, as he does on his tune, “Avocado,” or he can play it tender, as he does on Whitaker’s expressive title track.
Winter Moon is another fine entry in a growing catalogue of thoughtful yet passionate releases from Sirocco Jazz, a British label that has, over the past seven years, developed a reputation for supporting inventive and imaginative artists. Kudos to label owner John Priestley for creating a body of work that represents improvised music at its best; beautifully conceived and recorded, Winter Moon is a testament to the growing power of the independent record label.
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Track Listing: For Garrison; Fall; Sacrifice; Coming Ship; Spring Birth; Avocado; John Lewis; Winter Moon; Beauty and the Beast
Personnel: Rodney Whitaker (acoustic bass), Eric Reed (piano), Ron Blake (tenor and soprano saxophone), Carl Allen (drums)
Record Label: Sirocco Music Limited