Celine Bonacina: Way Of Life (2010)
It may not approach the freak-show proportions of the bass saxophone Adrian Rollini popularized in the 1920s, but the baritone is still an impressive beast, one that has frequently been employed as much for its visual impact as for the notes it produces. Ever since Little Richard introduced the unwieldy instrument to his touring band in the 1950sat one time his reed section consisted only of two baritonesrock & roll and rhythm & blues groups have employed it primarily for theatrical effect (while favoring the more penetrating bite of the alto or tenor on disc).
In jazz, however, the baritone shook off its novelty costume in the 1930s, following Harry Carney's employment in Duke Ellington's orchestra. It took the bop revolution a decade later to lift the instrument out of the reed section and into the frontline, with Cecil Payne and Leo Parker among its early credible soloists. Serge Chaloff and Gerry Mulligan followed soon after. But the baritone needs a firm hand if it is to be responsive to its rider, and, over 50 years later, the list of distinguished players remains relatively short.
It's not a list Paris-based Céline Bonacina is destined to join in the near future; not, anyway, on the evidence of Way Of Life, her second album and ACT label debut. Of elfin appearance, Bonacina presents an intriguing sight behind the horn, and this may explain the popularity of her trio on the European touring circuit. That and the pronounced rock aesthetic shared by her accomplished electric bassist, Nicolas Garnier, and drummer, Hary Ratsimbazafy, who generate plenty of heat and excitement. Though a technically agile player, Bonacina is in strictly musical terms a flabby soloist, careering around the edges of her tunes rather than developing them into coherent statements.
Most of material on Way Of Life is self-composed and most of it is fiery and rhythmically charged, making it perfect festival fodder. The most engaging tracks here are, ironically, two ballads, "Travel Story" and (a soprano feature) "Entre Deux Reves." When Bonacina slows down, and doesn't have to wrestle so hard with her instrument, she focuses more productively on the substance of her solos.
Guitarist Nguyên Lê is a welcome guest on four tracks, and turns in a couple of attractive solos, but in the main, Way Of Life sounds like Bonacina's calling card for festival and tour promoters.
Track Listing: Zig Zag Blues; Course Pour Suite; Ra Bentr'ol; Wake Up; Free Woman; Travel Story; Ekena; Deep Red; RAB; Histoire De; Jungle; Entre Deux Reves; Toty Come Bach.
Personnel: Céline Bonacina: baritone saxophone, alto saxophone (11), soprano saxophone (12); Nicolas Garnier: electric bass; Hary Ratsimbazafy: drums; Nguyên Lê: electric guitar (3, 7, 11, 12).
Record Label: ACT Music