With so much history to explore, tribute albums to jazz greats have become an established custom, regularly issued by artists of varying experience, from neophytes to masters. The most efficacious of these homages provide a fresh perspective on longstanding traditions, tracing the lineage of current concepts to past advances. A salient example of this phenomenon is Bechet: Our Contemporary
, Rob Reddy's inspired ode to fellow soprano saxophonist and legendary innovator Sidney Bechet
. Reddy has been active in the New York scene for over two decades, yet this album, his seventh as a leader, is the first to include another composer's works.
The octet assembled for this recording features some of Reddy's most dependable collaborators, including trumpeter John Carlson
, trombonist Curtis Fowlkes
, violinist Charles Burnham
, cellist Marika Hughes
and guitarist Marvin Sewell
, while the powerhouse duo of bassist Dom Richards
and drummer Pheeroan AkLaff
have been Reddy's principal rhythm section since his sterling debut, Post-War Euphoria
(Songlines, 1996). Sharing equal time in the spotlight with his bandmates, Reddy's serpentine cadences wend and wind through multihued arrangements of plaintive brass and strings, shading the proceedings with bittersweet harmony.
Besides playing the same instrument with an expressive vibrato, there are few obvious similarities between Reddy and Bechet's aesthetic, other than the former's affinity for early American vernacular forms, which finds commonality between Bechet's collaborative pre-swing aesthetic and the collective freedom of post-war jazz. Recalling the AACM's credo, "Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future," this all-inclusive approach informs the session's centerpiece, an ambitious reimagining of Bechet's "Song of Medina." Recast as an episodic sonic travelogue, its gradually shifting mosaic of earthy instrumental sonorities evokes the Art Ensemble Of Chicago
's most sophisticated excursions.
The set, which is split evenly between originals and covers, opens with the leader's jubilant, second line-infused anthem "Up-South" and closes with a freewheeling version of Bechet's "Broken Windmill," lending a sense of stylistic cohesiveness to the date. Reddy's modern reinterpretations of Bechet's repertoire are both respectful and inventive; his romantic Iberian-tinged reconfiguration of Bechet's signature tune, "Petite Fleur," is but one example of his creative acumen. Reminiscent of another poly-stylistic jazz icon, "Chant in the Night" suggests the swaggering bravado of Charles Mingus
, featuring guest baritone saxophonist Lisa Parrott
in especially fine form.
One of the defining features of Reddy's oeuvre is his lyricism, as a composer and
improviser. His skill for penning memorable melodies is exceeded only by his ability to invest them with heartfelt emotionmuch like the dedicatee of this program. Bechet: Our Contemporary
reveals as much about the current state of Reddy's artistry as it does the continued relevance of Bechet's, making this far more germane and significant than the average tribute album.