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Buck Hill: Relax (2006)

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Buck Hill: Relax How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

The return of tenor saxohonist Buck Hill as a leader has taken more than fifteen years. His storied career in the Washington, DC area is relatively well known. Deciding to stay at home and retain his "day job" as a postal carrier, Hill sacrified a future in jazz which surely would have taken him to a more musically rewarding place by now.

After forty-plus years working for US Postal Service, Buck Hill has resumed his recording career with a definite change of pace. This sound of this tenor sax/organ/guitar/bass/drums combo is redolent of the soul jazz era in the early 1960s, which continued on such labels as Blue Note and Prestige. The pairing of a tenor sax and Hammond B-3 organ guaranteed not only a soulful session, but a profitable one as well (until the emergence of the British Invasion, which reduced the jazz marketplace).

Hill continued to work sporadically, first with Charlie Byrd in 1958-59, and then made a long series of recordings on Steeplechase as a leader. The late 1980s and early '90s saw the release of four albums for Muse. Along the way, Hill worked with Shirley Horn as an occasional member of her recording combo.

Given that this is his first organ combo recording, the session is an unusually comfortable fit for him. Buck Hill's style is not unlike that of Houston Person, another veteran dating whose career dates back several decades. The common features the two saxophonists share include detailed melodies, surefooted solos and adaptations to the various shades of mainstream jazz. This album is divided into compositions by Buck Hill (four) and Miles Davis (three), plus one jazz standard, Willard Robinson's "Old Folks."

Hill knows how to play a ballad, as exemplified by "Old Folks" and the title tune (which is really played as a blues). The Miles Davis tunes include "Pfrancing," originally from Davis' Someday My Prince Will Come (Columbia, 1961), "Flamenco Sketches" from the classic Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959), and "Milestones," which dates back to the mid-1950s. The biggest surprise is that on "Flamenco Sketches" Hill takes a gentler approach, with equal support from both Ozment and Pieper.

Throughout this album, the members of this combo work admirably to provide a unified sound. John Ozment brings his touch of Jimmy Smith, while guitarist Paul Pieper does a fine job of emulating Kenny Burrell. The grooves are bluesy, and anyone who never recovered from the disappearance of the organ/tenor group should be delighted by this album.


Track Listing: RH Blues; Relax; Old Folks; Little Bossa; Flamenco Sketches; Pfrancing; Milestones; Sad Ones.

Personnel: Buck Hill: tenor sax, voice (2); John Ozment: Hammond A100; Paul Pieper: guitar; Jerry Jones: drums; Steve Cyphers: voice (2).

Record Label: Severn Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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