Saxophonist Tony Kofi is that increasingly rare thing on the British jazz scene, a player who didn't spend three years "learning" the music at an academic institution, but who discovered it, and developed his gift for it, mostly on the bandstand. True, Kofi did once spend a year at Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship, but the bulk of his learning curve came earlier, in workshops and on gigs in his hometown, Nottingham, and later, in the real-world finishing schools of the London-based Jazz Warriors and Tomorrow's Warriors.
As he tells it, Kofi came to the alto saxophone, his main instrument, via a near miracle. Having left school, he was working as an apprentice carpenter on a building site. One day, he fell three floors through the empty shell of the building. He should have died, but didn'tand on the way down his mind flashed on a brilliantly illuminated alto. Kofi knew that, if he survived, the alto was his destiny.
The Silent Truth is Kofi's third album as leader, following Plays Monk (All Is Know) (Specific Jazz, 2004), which featured the same quartet on a set of Thelonious Monk compositions, and Future Passed (Specific Jazz, 2006), a brilliant, irresistible celebration of late 1950s/early 1960s saxophone/organ groove combos.
This time, Kofi's urgent, testifying altoplayed in a heavily vocalized style peopled by the likes of Charlie Parker, Lou Donaldson, Cannonball Adderley, Earl Bostic and Dudu Pukwanais featured on a set of band originals generally, but not exclusively, inspired by the more visceral end of the hard bop of the 1960s. The exceptions are pianist Jonathan Gee's acerbic "Disharmony" and lovely Pat Metheny-esque ballad "Cicada," and bassist Ben Hazleton's pretty "Oont," on which Kofi plays soprano.
Most of the tempos are up, as established with the swinging funk of Kofi's opening "Giants," in which his riffing, multi-tracked horns trade hard-driving fours with drummer Winston Clifford. But even when the pace is more measured, as on "Cicada," "Oont" and the intimate, after-hours vibe of Kofi's "First Breath," it feels like everything could boil over at a moment's notice. Kofi solos with his trademark soulful lyricism, and gives plenty of solo time to the outstanding Gee, here most frequently in Horace Silver/Bobby Timmons/Les McCann sanctified funk mode.
If the parameters, as on Kofi's previous albums, are mostly retro, the impact of the music is again wholly of today. Kofi deals not so much with the past as with the eternal truths of jazz musicswing, in-the-moment lyricism, the lust for lifeand he continues to find compelling ways to express them. His albums are heartfelt, unpretentious explosions of joy, and precisely what the doctor ordered.
Personnel: Tony Kofi: alto, soprano and baritone saxophones; Jonathan Gee: piano; Ben Hazleton: double-bass; Winston Clifford: drums.