Gregory Tardy is Impulse's hot new saxophonist, having played with Elvin Jones' Jazz Machine, Wynton, Tom Harrell, Jay McShann, Roy Hargrove, Nicholas Payton, Steve Coleman. On Serendipity,, his maiden voyage as a leader, he's joined by Wynton's longtime bassist Reginald Veal, Aaron Goldberg on piano and Eric Harland on drums. Mulgrew Miller on piano and trumpeters Tom Harrell and Russell Gunn drop by here and there.
Serendipity is a solid shot out of the box. The program alternates attractively between up-tempo numbers and ballads. Tardy's chops are in order; he can play powerfully and sweetly, brightly and warmly. The trumpeters are inventive, joining Tardy in tasty unison heads (which just make me say, oh, for the days of Jackie and Lee!) and contributing fine solos (check out "Blues to Professor Perkins," where the angular solo comes courtesy, I think, Harrell). "JL's Wish" and "Prisoner of Love" are smoldering ballads on which the leader (with some dynamically varied keening lines that hint at the development of a thoroughly original voice) and Veal shine. Tardy gets a bit more daring on "The Fractar Question," a harmonically savory number employing a number of tempo shifts. Elsewhere, in more up-tempo territory such as "Blues to Professor Perkins" and "Ah-Ite," Tardy handles runs with taste, confidence, and power, edging into multiphonics about as far as ‘Trane ever did and no more. The sound is crisp and precise without being overly sharp.
As one might expect, these fellows are a trifle Wyntonian. At least on this disc, Tardy seems to share the Marsalian view of the nature, limits and proper use of the jazz tradition. His personal chief forbears seem to be ‘Trane and Sonny (with whom he shares a taste for running a line attractively into the ground and note, please, his Rollinsian long unaccompanied intro to Monk's "Ask Me Now"). Consequently this is solid jazz, well-played and thoroughly pleasing. It leaves open the question of whether Gregory Tardy himself will ever become someone some other saxophonist strives to play like. Tardy says he has "very high goals," so that may be coming. Certainly Serendipity is more assured than many debuts, and may hint of higher heights to come.