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Jack Nimitz and Friends . . .: Yesterday and Today (2008)

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Jack Nimitz and Friends . . .: Yesterday and Today How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.

Yesterday and Today comprises two sessions recorded half a century apart, each of which offers a rare chance to sing the praises of baritone saxophonist Jack Nimitz, a longtime standout on the West Coast scene. Somehow he has managed to produce only three albums with his name above the marquee, the first of which—Confirmation—was released in 1995, the same year he turned old enough to start cashing Social Security checks. While it's not true that Nimitz' picture appears next to the word "underrated" in Webster's dictionary, one wouldn't be too surprised if it were.

The first half of the album embodies a previously unreleased date from March 1957 co-led by Nimitz and trombonist Bill Harris, the second a quintet session in January '07 that features a two-baritone front line, the veteran Nimitz and young lion Adam Schroeder who was born twenty-one years after the earlier component was recorded. The Nimitz / Harris collaboration is marked by inspired blowing by the co-leaders, but hampered on most tracks by a rather enervated and superfluous string section that adds little to the performance. The '07 date boasts an especially sharp and sure-handed rhythm section (John Campbell, piano; Dave Carpenter, bass; Joe La Barbera, drums).

Nimitz was more the Mulligan disciple in '57, enhancing his buoyant sound and exemplary technique with melodically persuasive phrases worthy of Jeru himself. His tone is heavier now, the patterns less precise but no less rewarding. Most of all, the fire is still there and Nimitz plays with the energy and exuberance of someone half his age. As for the two baris, the booklet informs us that Nimitz is on the right channel, Schroeder on the left. Even though there's not much stereo separation and their modulation is quite similar, one should have no trouble singling them out.

The earlier session consists entirely of standards. While Nimitz wrote a pair of originals for the '07 date—"More Friends" and "All You Are"—they are barely disguised versions of "Just Friends" and "All the Things You Are." In both instances, the flag-wavers set the bar high—"The Love Nest" and "Shine" in '57, "Bernie's Tune," "Friends," "Groovin' High," "It's You or No One" on the more recent outing. That's not to say that anything else is less than entertaining. Nimitz has always been singularly impressive on ballads, as he proves on "A Handful of Stars," "Autumn Nocturne" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." Other highlights include "Long Ago and Far Away," "You and the Night and the Music" and "Somebody Loves Me" ('57), Mike Barone's "Waltz This!" and Monk's "Well, You Needn't" ('07).

In each case, Nimitz couldn't have asked for more compatible front-line partners. Harris is at the top of his customarily remarkable game, while Schroeder shadows Nimitz stride for stride and note for note at tempos that range from leisurely to breakneck. There's solo space for Campbell, Carpenter and La Barbera too, and each one delivers the goods. Even so, Nimitz is the unequivocal star, and Yesterday and Today is an album that one should derive great pleasure from revisiting today and tomorrow.

Track Listing: Long Ago and Far Away; A Handful of Stars; You and the Night and the Music; Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise; The Love Nest; Autumn Nocturne; Somebody Loves Me; Lean on Me; Shine; Bernie's Tune; Waltz This!; More Friends; Groovin' High; All You Are; Well, You Needn't; Polka Dots and Moonbeams; It's You or No One.

Personnel: Tracks 1-9 (collective): Jack Nimitz: baritone sax; Bill Harris: trombone; Kenny Burrell: guitar; Jimmy Raney: guitar; Chuck Wayne: guitar; Oscar Pettiford: bass; Russ Saunders: bass; Don Lamond: drums;Ted Sommer: drums; Gene Orloff: violin; Harry Lukofsky: violin; Dick Whetmore: violin; Seymour Barab: violin; George Koutzen: violin; George Ricci: violin; Alan Schulman: violin; Lucien Schmidt: violin; Harvey Shapiro: cello. NYC, March 1957. Tracks 10-17: Jack Nimitz: baritone sax; Adam Schroeder: baritone sax; John Campbell: piano; Dave Carpenter: bass; Joe La Barbera: drums. Hollywood, CA, January 2007.

Record Label: Fresh Sound Records

Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


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