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  • Mike Neely wrote on July 25, 2007 report

    Although he may not have recorded much as a leader, there are few jazz greats over the past 40 years or so that he hasn’t played or recorded with bassist Earl May, including Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. His duet recordings with John Coltrane are unusual in the great saxophonist’s discography; his recordings with Sonny Stitt and Billy Taylor are also widely appreciated. May has always been lauded for his full bluesy sound and subtle accompaniment, and these characteristics are fully evident in his recent release from Arbors Records.

    Swinging the Blues presents May and a fine quartet that successfully unites different generations in an obvious devotion to the traditions of jazz. The other senior member of the quartet, drummer Eddie Locke, has also been a familiar name among the recording of the greats. His quartet recordings with Coleman and Hawkins and Tommy Flanagan come immediately to mind. Taste, a fine touch, and a lively imagination are all apt descriptors of Locke’s talents.

    The first track of the recording, which is also the title track, Swinging the Blues is a demonstration of why Eddie Locke has been so much in demand over the decades. His fine work with the cymbals and his understated accompaniment are both in full swing; his solo work is also highlighted with several concise and imaginative statements. The power and cohesion of this quartet is evident right from the start with Earl May driving the band with presence that does indeed swing the blues.

    The third track, “My Foolish Heart,” highlights Earl May’s affinity with bassists such as Oscar Pettiford and Ray Brown. He’s the solid foundation of all that transpires and his solo work with David Glasser’s thoughtful alto is one of the highlights of the session. Perhaps, the most representative track of the recording is David Glasser’s composition “Under African Skies” in which everyone solos and the rapport of the band is particularly evident. The whole CD is a study in how a tight rhythm section can direct and inspire a band; both May and Locke are worth repeated listening for any aspiring jazz musician.

    The two “younger” middle age members of the quartet are fine musicians who are well on their way of establishing themselves as significant talents on the national and international jazz scenes. Both alto saxophonist David Glasser and pianist Larry Ham bring extensive professional experience to the stand; they are both poised professionals who play with intelligence and taste. Glasser is featured extensively on this recording demonstrating a wide range of stylistic mastery from “Lester Leaps In” to “Confirmation.” He brings something new to these standards which is typical of his insightful engagement with the music.

    Larry Ham is a versatile pianist who is capable of effortless sounding be-bop lines to emotionally acute ballads interpretations. He is somewhat restrained on this recording, focused on providing sophisticated accompaniment and concise solo work throughout. Ham plays with a touch that is evidence of a significant classical background while having the jazz ears and lack of ego to mesh beautifully with May and Locke. Undoubtedly we’ll all be hearing from Glasser and Ham long into the future: another Arbors recording from this fine quartet would be a very good place to start. This is a beautifully recorded quartet session from a band that understands what jazz is all about.