Benjamin Drazen: Inner Flights (2011)
Alto and soprano saxophonist Benjamin Drazen's smashing debut recording as a leader contains all of the essential ingredients for a meaningful mainstream jazz record. The leader's seven original compositions are a diverse, substantial, and pleasantly familiar lot. Drazen and pianist Jon Davis, the disc's primary soloists, play in the moment and think their way through improvisations instead of endlessly spewing licks mastered in the practice room. The rhythm section, comprised of Davis, bassist Carlo DeRosa, and drummer Eric McPherson, evinces a focused, levelheaded quality, even while they engage in rousing, straightforward swing.
Taken at a snail's pace, Drazen's version of the standard "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" is six minutes and fifty-eight seconds of pure ballad magic. Following Davis's brief introduction, the saxophonist seesaws between a tender rendering of the tune's melody and hearty, effusive locutions. He tugs at the heartstrings and engages the intellect. Later on, his improvisation is more assertive yet never departs from the character of the song. Davis' brief solo makes every note fit into a larger scheme. There's a quiet, understated eloquence in the ways in which chords are lightly struck and sustained. At one point Davis plays a portion of one of the tune's phrases, lets a note hang in the air, and then DeRosa deftly fills in the rest. Throughout the track, Drazen and company make emotionally compelling music that doesn't need to shout to make its point.
Track Listing: Mr. Twilight; Monkish; Prayer For Brothers Gone By; Jazz Heaven; Inner Flights; Neeney's Waltz; This Is New; Kickin' Up Dirt; Polka Dots And Moonbeams.
Personnel: Benjamin Drazen: saxophones; Jon Davis: piano; Carlo DeRosa: bass; Eric McPherson: drums.