I always thought the ultimate performances of tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin were on (arguably) the greatest studio recordings of Charles Mingus, Mingus Ah Um
and Blues and Roots
. This magnificent and long-overdue reissue of a Booker Ervin Blue Note session from 1968 has caused me to alter my opinion. I think this was the tenor saxman's greatest session, and given the company he found himself in, particularly trumpeter Woody Shaw and pianist Kenny Barron, it is little wonder that a magic glows from every tune.
What made Ervin such an exquisite partner with Mingus was his big, brawny, keening, and sometimes downright snarling tone. Just like the famed Mingus sensibility, comfy like a giant ball of uncoiling steel wool, could coax those extra abrasive notes from Ervin's sax, a really cooking, perhaps even frantic, Woody Shaw seems to bring out the fire in Ervin. The stupidly titled "Den Tex"Blue Note had this annoying habit of titling whole albums and tunes based on trivial word play (in this instance Irvin's Texas heritage)is a dazzling example of Shaw and Ervin egging one another on, with some substantial pushing from pianist Barron, who dances around their changes. Drummer Billy Higgins plays at full throttle while bassist Jan Arnet is along for the galloping ride.
Most of the five tunes, none with memorable hooks per se, follow this formula, and it all works as a truly classic hard bop session of distinction. Ervin was a major voice in transmuting the Texas R&B sound into bop, and the sheer emotional forcefulness of his sax sound was never better captured than on this fiery session which, by the way, is released in a "limited edition" "connoisseur's" edition, so the clock is ticking before this recording becomes unjustly unavailable again.
Personnel: Booker Ervin: tenor saxophone; Woody Shaw: trumpet; Kenny Barron: piano; Jan Arnet:
bass; Bill Higgins: drums.