Jake Fryer / Bud Shank Quintet: In Good Company (2011)
One of the apparent pitfalls that a young artist such as Jake Fryer finds himself in danger of, while making an album with star such as Bud Shankespecially when playing the same instrument, namely the alto saxophoneis that freedom of expression often gives way to reverence. The younger player might feel obligated to diminish him/herself, so that the mentor can be given his or her rightful place in the proceedings. However, this is certainly not one of the issues that arise with the Jake Fryer/Bud Shank Quintet. While Shank soarsseemingly from an already elevated position on the haloed ground of bebop survivorshigher and higher from song to song, the young British altoist Fryer is never far behind. The spirit of Jonathan Livingston Seagull is conjured up once again: in following the dream and aspirationin this case inhabiting the same haloed ground as ShankJake Fryer finds wings that take him just about wherever his dreams might go.
Shank is too fiery to be termed "cool," his soaring dynamic with burnished glissandos carries melodies ever upward. His phrases are constructed like Charlie Parker's, in short intense bursts. There is a sharp edge to his tone, and his music expands in concentric circles, getting brighter and brighter because of the gleaming colors he works with in his aural palette. If there is any way a smoky tone can be adopted to voice the alto saxophone, then Jake Fryer has mastered this to the maximum. Fryer has a childlike sense of adventure; he explores every facet of tone and is unafraid to let arpeggios take him in great gusts of woodwind up and down registers; sometimes mixing them up completely. Yet Fryer and Shank remain alter egos, and the younger player weaves in and out of the harmonic labyrinths that Shankusually soloing firstleads the quintet.
Fryer has contributed several charts to this, tragically, final session that Shank played before his passing in 2009. Like a master chef, the younger musician imagined just how the overall musical banquet would turn out as he seems to have written the music right into Shank's character. "Bopping with Bud" is an obvious one, but it is music like "Breaking Loose" and "The Time Lord" that is truly inspired. The sharp curves and hairpin bends in the melodic structure of the pieces, and the rhythmic complexity of the latter chart, seem to have been set up expressly for Shank's horn. "In Good Company" has a benevolent melody, and the two men play with a cool, laidback rhythm, but the changes are sharp and full of surprise. The standards are stood on their proverbial heads. "Caravan" is played at breakneck speed, "Almost Like Being in Love" is never sentimental, and "Speak Low" reveals hidden harmonic gems.
Too bad the result of this memorable partnership will never be repeated.
Track Listing: Caravan; Bopping with Bud; Agnieszka; Tip Top and Tickety Boo; Breaking Loose; The Time Lord; Almost Like Being in Love; In Good Company; Speak Low.
Personnel: Jake Fryer: alto saxophone; Bud Shank: alto saxophone; Mike Wofford: piano; Bob Magnusson: bass; Joe La Barbera: drums.