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James Spaulding: Round To It! (2005)

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James Spaulding: Round To It! How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

High quality hard bop from one of the pillars of the music.

Master alto saxophonist and flutist James Spaulding has been an A-list sideman since the late fifties, when he worked frequently with Sun Ra. During the sixties he could be found on countless Blue Note recordings, lending invaluable support to such legendary artists as Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, and Freddie Hubbard. (The Joe Chambers ballad "Mirrors," from Hubbard's 1964 release Breaking Point, in which Spaulding's delicate flute inseparably twines with Hubbard's plaintive trumpet, stands as one the high water marks of the hard bop era.) However, since the Queens-based Spaulding has spent the greater part of his career backing rather than leading, he's never become the household name he so richly deserves to be.

The full title of Spaulding's new release is Round To It!—Live at Up Over Jazz Café—Speetones Vol. 2, and as the name indicates, it's the second release from a live gig recorded (in 2000) at the titular Brooklyn jazz club. It's a quintet date, with Spaulding leading four first-rate players through a set of seven lengthy original compositions: four by Spaulding, two by the date's hot tenor and soprano saxophonist, Dan Faulk, and one by its pianist, Isaac ben Ayala. (Bassist Eric Lemon and drummer Reggie Nicholson round out the band.)

Kicking off with Spaulding's bluesy, gospel-flavored "Hurry Home, the musicians make it immediately clear that they're not fooling around—this band is tight, primed and ready—and when Spaulding rips into his first solo with that trademark raw-boned sound, it practically lifts you off your seat. Spaulding, in fact, sounds terrific all the way through and on both axes; his alto playing is fierce and free, and his gorgeous, limpid flute is still achingly expressive (particularly so on the contemplative "Time To Go, a Spaulding tribute to Martin Luther King first recorded on the 1968 Bobby Hutcherson classic Patterns). And the rest of the band hangs with him, with the well-matched Faulk particularly compelling throughout.

This is hard bop played as it always should be: with passion, fire, generosity, and profound intelligence. For those less familiar with Spaulding, it's a great place to begin; for the more experienced hard bop listener, it's proof positive that his music remains as vital as ever.

Track Listing: Hurray Home; Journey East; Gentle Spirit; Ancestral Chant; Jubilee; Time To Go; New World Coming.

Personnel: James Spaulding: alto saxophone, flute; Dan Faulk: tenor and soprano saxophone; Issac ben Ayala: piano; Eric Lemon: bass; Reggie Nicholson: drums.

Record Label: Speetones

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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