Scott Hamilton and the late Zoot Sims share at least one thing in common aside from mastery of the tenor saxophone, and that is a well–defined musical vocabulary — a bag of tricks, if you will — from which each was (in Hamilton’s case, is) able to choose readily the proper “words” for any occasion from sweet and mellow to caustic and swinging. Zoot’s approach, however, was far more volatile and risk–taking; Hamilton more closely resembles the highly polished but sometimes uninspiring orator who is never at a loss for the appropriate phrase or expression. Whereas Zoot was every inch the fun–loving extrovert, Hamilton is more the introspective and well–schooled philosopher. In spite of Hamilton’s enormous admiration for Zoot, he doesn’t play like him at all, which is fine. Either approach is valid, and Zoot’s indomitable spirit is no less conspicuous on this easygoing reprise of songs with which he was associated. It helps, of course, to have Bucky Pizzarelli on board, as he gigged and recorded with Zoot and thus adds a further dash of insight and authenticity to the proceedings. Although Bucky may have had to work hard to hold himself in check — tempos are definitely more Hamilton– than Zoot–like — one would never guess that from the seemingly effortless way in which he shadows Scott’s every move. The differences between Sims and Hamilton are apparent from the opening track, “It Had to Be You,” which Zoot would have taken at a far brisker pace (and, in fact, did on many occasions). Hamilton is more the romantic, opening the throttle only occasionally, as on “Just You, Just Me,” “Morning Fun” and “It’s All Right with Me.” Even Zoot’s signature tune, “The Red Door,” lopes forward at an amiable tempo that would have had Zoot chafing and impatient to cut loose. But as we said, either frame of reference is convincing, and instead of trying to imitate Zoot (which in any case would be impossible), Hamilton pays tribute to one of the all–time Jazz greats on his own less impassioned terms, which are nonetheless virtuous enough to please. Easily recommended.
Track listing: It Had to Be You; Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You?; The Red Door; Dream of You; Jitterbug Waltz; Two Funky People; Just You, Just Me; In the Middle of a Kiss; Morning Fun; It’s All Right with Me (57:19).
Scott Hamilton, tenor saxophone; Bucky Pizzarelli, acoustic and electric guitars.