As the title implies, saxophonist Wayne Escoffery's Veneration is a recording that pays tribute to the art of modern jazz. Recorded live at the Smoke night club in New York City, it perhaps captures the essence of jazz more authentically as a performance art. That is, music created in the moment, freshly honed in the presence of an audience, creating an experience akin to walking a tightrope without a net. That additional edge of a live performance often captures improvising musicians at their best, freezing the moment in time and preserving the event for subsequent listening.
Escoffery's veneration is further exemplified in that six of the eight compositions were written by jazz musicians of the recent past. After vibraphonist Joe Locke's "Locke's Vibe" opens the recording and serves as a preamble for the full performance, the band segues into Dizzy Gillespie's "I Waited for You." Escoffery's tone on tenor and style of soloing brings to mind the dry, agile sound of the late Joe Henderson. A further connection of Escoffery with Henderson is his version of the Billy Strayhorn/Duke Ellington composition "Isfahan." Escoffery also employs the spare accompaniment of the bass, reminiscent of Henderson's version of the tune on the 1992 release Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn(Verve).
Escoffery's singular compositional contribution to Veneration is the somewhat melancholy sounding "Tell Me Why." On this medium tempo ballad, Escoffery opts for the soprano saxophone which his skills are of no less than his tenor chops as he plays in a very emotionally expressive manner. Joe Locke likewise contributes an inventive solo as part of the arrangement.
Two tunes by trumpeter Booker Little"Bee Vamp" (which Little had recorded with Eric Dolphy in the 1960's) and "Looking Ahead"employ driving grooves and are excellent vehicles for Escoffery and Locke's improvisations. Freddie Hubbard's classic "Sky Dive" likewise, fills out a great set of tunes.
Perhaps Escoffery's greatest veneration comes through the composition "Melody for Melonae" written by the late alto saxophonist and teacher Jackie McLean. Originally recorded in the early 1960s, the opus begins with a rather ominous head and then cracks wide open into an unrelenting, hard driving, and swinging groove. Escoffery stretches out more on this tune than the previous seven, seemingly full of unabashed abandon in expressing his innermost creative drive.
The quality is very fine with a clear and distinct sound. For anyone who loves modern straight-ahead jazz, immaculately recorded in a live environment, Wayne Escoffery's Veneration is as good as it gets.
Personnel: Wayne Escoffery: tenor and soprano saxophones; Joe Locke: vibes; Hans Glawischnig: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.