Wayne Escoffery: Uptown (2009)
A former student of the late, great alto saxophonist Jackie McLean, the London-born, Connecticut-raised Escoffery is perhaps best known for his key (and ongoing) role in trumpeter Tom Harrell's highly regarded quintet. Since moving to New York nearly a decade ago, he's also held down important sideman jobs with Ben Riley's Monk Legacy project, Mingus Big Band,Eric Reed, Abdullah Ibrahim and others. Here, he's joined by an energetic and cohesive group of contemporaries including his main foil, Israeli guitarist Avi Rothbard, omnipresent organist Gary Versace and the talented young drummer Jason Brown.
The set opens strongly with Rothbard's hard-driving "No Desert," followed by an unusually upbeat take on Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad" and another forceful tune from Rothbard, "Cross Bronx." The most inspired track is Escoffery's exploratory "Gulf of Aqaba," with its chant-like refrain and Middle Eastern flourishes. Here, as on several other tunes, McLean's inspiration is apparent in Escoffery's slightly sharp harmonies and his ability to combine mainstream, bop-oriented playing with more outside influences. The album's closing number, Escoffery's "Easy Now," is an easy, loping blues that's the group's most straight-ahead effort at capturing a vintage uptown vibe.
Track Listing: No Desert; I Got It Bad; Cross Bronx; You Know I Care; Road from Eilat; Gulf of Aqaba; Nu Soul; Maya's Waltz; Easy Now.
Personnel: Wayne Escoffery: tenor sax; Avi Rothbard: guitar; Gary Vesace: organ; Jason Brown: drums.
Record Label: Posi-Tone Records