Pharez Whitted: For The People (2012)
Saxophonist Pharez Whitted has had an unusual recording career. Fourteen years separated Mysterious Cargo (Motown Records, 1996) from Transient Journey (Owl Studios, 2010), as Whitted dedicated himself to jazz education and sideman appearances with the likes of drummer Elvin Jones, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and pianist Ramsey Lewis. In this context, For the People comes after a relatively short interval. With the same top drawer Chicago musicians as on Transient Journey, Whitted leads the sextet through originals mostly rooted in the hard bop tradition. Melody is Whitted's currency and a mellifluous, easygoing vibe leans a little more towards smooth jazz than it does The Jazz Messengers on several tracks.
Whitted's upbeat compositions follow a standard head-solo-solo-head formula and, whilst there aren't any surprises, these tunes certainly swing. The opener, "Watsui Boogaloo," is an infectious hard bop calling card driven by the tight unison and soaring solo lines of Whitted and tenor saxophonist Eddie Bayard; swing comes courtesy of drummer Greg Artry, bassist Dennis Carroll and pianist Ron Perrillo. Guitarist Bobby Broom deals in some sly funk before delivering a singing solo of his own.
The breezy, summer soundtrack of "If They Could Only See" has fewer harmonic layers, according a spacious feel to the solos. Broom, Whitted, Bayard on soprano, and Perrillo, all deliver mellifluous solos whose common denominator is their economy of notes. An electric keyboard riff doses "Another Kinda Blue" with a shot of funk, as trumpet and tenor saxophone play with exuberance evocative of saxophonist Everette Harp's soul-funk. Broom's solo steers a line between funk and bop idiomssinewy and grooving.
The spirits of bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist John Coltrane inhabit the denser orchestration and free blowing passages of "Freedom Song," and there's wicked groove in Carroll's bass and killer riffs from guitar and tenor saxophone. A drum feature over a piano vamp makes for a dramatic finale. The title track, "Sad Eyes" and "Unbroken Promise" slow the tempo but even on these ballads there's warmth in the playing; On "Sad Eyes," Whitted's solo is brightly lyrical, as are Bayard, Broom and Perrillo's interventions. The latter number would make a nice soundtrack for an ocean drive, but these three tunes are mellow and pretty as opposed to emotionally engaging.
Short, punchy solos are threaded back-to-back on the jazz-funk/smooth jazz "It Is What It Is." There's a little more drive in "Keep the Faith"; Broom delivers the sort of telling solo that has made him first-call guitarist for saxophonist Sonny Rollins for some while, and Whitted whips up a storm. "Venture," with subtle electronic keyboards and muted trumpet, is taken at a slower pace, but the closing number, the Coltrane/trumpeter Lee Morgan-inspired "Hope Springs Eternal," features lively solos from Bayard on soprano, Whitted and Broom, as Perrillo lays down McCoy Tyner-esque chords.
Upbeat and melodic throughout, the quality of the solos raises the music well above much smooth jazz. On the other hand, the largely predictable patterns may be a turnoff for those who prefer more adventurous writing and a little cerebral engagement.
Track Listing: Watusi Boogaloo; If They Could Only See; Another Kinda Blue; Freedom Song; For The People; It Is What It Is; Sad Eyes; Keep The Faith; The Unbroken Promise; Venture; Hope Springs Eternal.
Personnel: Pharez Whitted: trumpet; Eddie Bayard: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Bobby Broom: guitar; Ron Perrillo: piano, keyboards; Dennis Carroll: bass; Greg Artry: drums.