Larry McKenna: Profile (2009)
Philadelphia-based tenor saxophonist Larry McKenna is known for his gorgeous sound, the unparalleled beauty of his balladry, and his fluid, bebop-inspired improvisations. Profile showcases McKenna at the height of his interpretive and improvisational powers.
Profile consists of a well-chosen set of familiar and lesser-known standards, and originals. It's a blowing session anchored by a heavyweight rhythm section: pianist Tom Lawton never ceases to amaze with his abundant technique and endless stream of ideas; bassist Kevin MacConnell underpins the session with his ringing sound, rock-solid time, and flawless intonation; and drummer Dan Monaghan combines sensitivity and responsiveness with a propulsive energy. Honey-toned vocalist Nancy Reed joins the quartet to sing Cole Porter's "I Love You," and McKenna's collaboration with Melissa Gilstrap, "Perhaps This Wintertime."
The session kicks off with McKenna's "You Know It's Me," a bluesy, medium tempo shuffle. McKenna's note-perfect solonot a chord change missed, not a phrase out of placeis typical of his playing throughout. Hanging ever so slightly behind the beat, McKenna intersperses refined bebop licks with blustering blues riffs. His improvisations are often fiery and passionate, sometimes quiet and tender, always logical and inventive.
On this session's barn-burner, "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," McKenna's fleet fingers sprint effortlessly through its fast-moving chord changes, with the saxophonist and Lawton displaying their bebop roots in agile, back-to-back solos.
The centerpiece of this CD is "Perhaps This Wintertime," McKenna's first ballad composition to be married to lyrics. The task went to Gilstrap, a Philadelphia lawyer who is known to both classical and jazz musicians for evocative drawings of performers which she inks from her seat at jazz clubs and concert halls (her artwork gracing the cover of this CD). Gilstrap's poignant, yearning lyrics about a lasting love that may never come are affectingly sung by Reed. With the addition of McKenna's caressing solo, this achingly beautiful performance emerges as the session's most personal statement.
Of all the stellar music on this CD, if one track demonstrates how years of study, performing, and life with its peaks and valleys have yielded a jazz great in McKenna, it would be by Leslie Bricuisse and Henry Mancini's closing "Two For the Road." Few musicians understand the art of the ballad like McKenna, as he proves in this tender, unembellished, sweet send-off.
Now in his seventies, McKenna honed his craft in the heyday of modern jazz; a voice of that penultimate era that can be heard in the saxophonist's elegant lines and phrasing, breathtaking tone, shimmering vibrato, and swinging sense of time. For jazz that is simply beautiful, there's no need to look any further than Profile.
Track Listing: You Know It's Me; Tres Palabras; You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To; Perhaps This Wintertime; Is It Over My Head?; I'll Close My Eyes; I Love You; Dream Dancing; Out Of Nowhere; Two For The Road.
Personnel: Larry McKenna: tenor saxophone; Tom Lawton: piano; Kevin MacConnell: bass; Dan Monaghan: drums; Nancy Reed: vocals (4, 7).
Record Label: Dreambox Media