Although tenor saxman Ned Goold has recorded two albums in the past few years, The Flows
is a major breakthrough as far as I'm concerned. The scenario of a piano-less trio (tenor sax-bass-drums) is a daunting format in which the "rubber meets the road" with no margin for error. Goold is a musician who I've only heard playing obbligattos behind Harry Connick, Jr. in the recent past. Here, he takes the gauntlet of this challenging format and succeeds admirably.
Goold was acting as the musical director for Harry Connick, Jr. in the late '90s. In 1999, Connick asked if he would like to open for the star on the nationwide tour, and this album is comprised of the best of those many sessions recorded live with bassist Ben Wolfe, a longtime Connick musician, and drummer Ron Steen. The sixteen tracks are largely original compositions, with three standards and compositions of Charlie Parker and Kenny Dorham. There's a lot of time here to sample and savor the work of Mr. Goold and company.
There is a inevitable comparison with the trio work of Sonny Rollins in the late '50s and early '60s, insofar as the exact trio format and the techniques employed by the two saxophonists. I know nothing else about Goold. Perhaps next year he'll come out with a smooth jazz album or pop hit covers, but for now I'll say that he's travelling in some pretty significant company. The elimination of a pianist requires the group, and certainly the leader, to really perspire, and Goold is fully up to that challenge. Ben Wolfe is in constant motion, and without the piano's comping, the listener is fully aware of his work while Steen provides a nice sizzle on the drums.
What I liked most was Gould's appreciation of the melody so that the solo never really leaves the stratosphere, as so many other blowers might have done. His work on both the head and improvisation is thoughtful, probing and alternately tender or forceful. Most importantly, he sounds like Rollins during that period. Is this a copycat situation or not? I don't really think so since Rollins may be been a prime influence in Goold's development. Regardless, Sonny doesn't play in that mode any longer, and so we're able to relive the past through the present, so to speak.
On standards like Kern's "All The Things You Are" and especially on Cole Porter's "In The Still Of The Night," Goold is ripping through the melody in a Sonny-mode for three. Bird's "Quasimodo" is slowed down, making a more interesting application. Goold does show an adventurous side on such tunes as "Michael vs. Mikan" and "Spoiled Rotten" in which his playing seems more aggressive and abstract than the other selections.
I'm reminded that the piano-less sax trio appears to be gaining some momentum with many avant-garde musicians over the past decade and some recent mainstream releases by groups like the cooperative Fly, which features reedman Mark Turner, or the new Steve Swallow release in which Chris Potter is placed in the same situation. Both of these players are known for their prodigious chops, but they're not Sonny Rollins clones or likely to play in that manner. Now if only we can convince Ned Goold to record his version of the Way Out West album.....
Personnel: Ned Goold, tenor sax; Ben Wolfe, bass; Ron Steen, drums.