Neil Swainson Quintet: 49th Parallel

Pierre Giroux BY

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Neil Swainson Quintet: 49th Parallel
For those who are geographically inclined, the 49th Parallel is the location of the Canada/US border that runs from British Columbia to the Manitoba/Ontario line. For those with a more musical inclination, it is the title of a limited edition vinyl LP reissue (of a 1987 CD) on Reel to Reel Records by the Neil Swainson Quintet. The recording was supervised by that indefatigable Canadian jazz musician and entrepreneur Cory Weeds.

This hard bop session was originally recorded in Toronto Canada in 1987 with a superb front line of trumpeter Woody Shaw and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. The standout rhythm section is composed of the leader and bassist Neil Swainson, along with the brash young pianist Gary Williamson and the thoughtful drummer Jerry Fuller. This is and was Swainson's only recording as a leader despite having gained a stellar reputation accompanying and recording with pianist George Shearing. Both Fuller and Williamson were dependable members of the Toronto jazz scene and were regularly called upon to back up visiting US jazz virtuosos.

The material for this session, save "Homestretch" was composed by Swainson and was informed by the two heavyweight frontline players to take advantage of their talent and temperament. Side A opens with the title track and it is a fine example of two restlessly creative horn players who are empathetic partners. At the time of the recording, Shaw was close to the end of his career, although his playing was still abundantly creative. Suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, Shaw for all intents and purposes was blind. He could not longer read music and had to learn the arrangements by repeated listening. This was Shaw's last studio recording and by May 1989 he was dead at age 44. "Southern Exposure" keeps the creative juices flowing with the front line demonstrating their expressive flexibility. Shaw shows his considerable range and that he still is an astute improvisor. Henderson is an impressively gifted tenor saxophonist with a distinctive voice on his instrument. Swainson completes the picture by taking a solo filled with his deep tone and unswerving technique.

Side B opens with "On The Lam" featuring Woody Shaw, followed by "Don't Hurt Yourself" with Joe Henderson, and then the closer "Homestretch," a Henderson original with the quintet. On the first two selections Shaw and Henderson are each supported by the rhythm section who establish a groove upon which they connect with the rhythmic team to deliver contributions of boss expressiveness. Henderson's composition opens with a drum introduction from Fuller, followed by a unison section from Shaw and Henderson that leads into lengthy solos from the front line that are powerful, fluid, sharp elbowed lines. Then Williamson, Swainson and Fuller each have a chance to flex their chops before the unison out chorus restates the theme.

This vinyl reissue LP makes available a remarkable recording and a hard bop gem.

Track Listing

49th Parallel;Port Of Spain; Southern Exposure; On The Lam; Don't Hurt Yourself; Homestretch.


Neil Swainson: bass, acoustic; Gary Williamson: piano; Jerry Fuller: drums; Woody Shaw: trumpet; Joe Henderslon: saxophone, tenor.

Album information

Title: 49th Parallel | Year Released: 2020 | Record Label: Reel to Reel

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