Mainstream albums that continue to interpret and reinterpret the Great American Songbook have to be assessed with a different set of criteria than more overtly contemporary forms of the idiom. They rarely break any new ground, and the players, while often highly capable, or not necessarily what one would call adventurous. Still, there's a lot to be said for a well-organized, well-executed set of mainstream jazz, and tenor saxophonist Ralph Reichert and his quartet, on the live set Reflections
, clearly have it. Energetic and swinging at times, tender and heartfelt at others, Reichert and the group are filled with a positive energy and the songs literally jump out of the speakers. This may not be trend-setting music, but it is clearly compelling stuff, and makes as good an argument as any that the mainstream can still be vibrant and exciting.
Guest trumpeter Randy Sandke has an interesting history that saw him turn down an opportunity to play with Janis Joplin because of a hernia in his throat, a condition which, while ultimately cured, caused him to eschew the trumpet and work as a guitarist for most of the '70s. He returned to the trumpet again in the '80s, working with artists including Vince Giardino, Bob Wilbur and, most notably, Benny Goodman's last band in the mid-'80s, which established him as a fine player in the swing tradition. He possesses a sharp tone, and a direct and economical style.
Drummer Wolff Reichert demonstrates a sense of time, conciseness and flair that comes from one of his main influences, Steve Gadd. Pianist Buggy Braune is a comfortable accompanist, and a soloist who brings together traditions as diverse as Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans. Bassist Andreas Henze may have a background in classical music, but here he swings hard, contributing a number of well thought-out solos. And Ralph Reichert is a melodic player with a sense of the dramatic that comes from the Joe Lovano school; this comes as no surprise as he also works with guitarist Hendrik Meyer, exploring and expanding on the work done by Lovano with John Scofield.
The set list may be conventional, with the band working their way through well-heeled tunes including "Darn That Dream," "It Might As Well Be Spring" and "What Is This Thing Called Love," and giving a more straightforward and less idiosyncratic reading of Monk's "Reflections," but the set is wonderfully paced, generating energy at just the right time, while knowing exactly when to slow down the pace and let the audience breathe. Without a doubt the Birdland Jazzclub in Hamburg must have been an extremely fun place to be on March 8, 2002, when this set was recorded. What Reflections lacks in creative originality it more than makes up for in sheer engagement, playfulness and fun. And in this case that's absolutely more than enough.
Personnel: Ralph Reichert (tenor saxophone), Buggy Braune (piano), Andreas Henze (bass), Wolff Reichert (drums)
With special guest Randy Sandke (trumpet)