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Bennie Wallace: Bennie Wallace in Berlin

C. Michael Bailey By

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Bennie Wallace, we are glad you are back from Hollywood...

I whole-heartedly agree with magazine-mate Glenn Astarita in his summation of Bennie Wallace’s new Enja recording Bennie Wallace in Berlin, when he states that "Bennie Wallace is irrefutably one of the finest tenor saxophonists alive." I am a relative late comer to Mr. Wallace’s music. I had known him by reputation and reading (two ways of "knowing" that are sorely lacking once compared to listening ), and Live in Berlin is the first of the Tennessee-native’s recordings I have scrutinized. After listening to Mr. Wallace’s brand of Gershwin, I acquired a copy of his last Enja release Someone to Watch over Me (9356, 1999). This is where I will start...

At a time when one would think that he or she could not hear one more endearing saxophone treatment of Gershwin war-horses, Bennie Wallace arrives with his highly personal tribute. Highly personal is how I would describe his saxophone style which approximates that of Ben Webster had he, rather than Eric Dolphy, had played with John Coltrane. This recording employs the very fine Mulgrew Miller on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Yoron Israel on the drums. This quartet deftly breaths later 20th Century life into the Gershwin Canon. Wallace and Miller’s duet on the title track says it all.

Now, translate the above into live performance. The Gershwin expert George Cables replaces Miller and Marsalis alumni Herlin Riley replace Israel in the traps chair. Wallace’s Gershwin performances in Berlin far surpass his studio versions. "It Ain't Necessarily So" opens with Herlin Riley setting the groove under two choruses of George Cables. Wallace enters and blows his raspy personality into the standard. His solo is angular and craggy, what one might expect from a post-Coltrane saxophonist. The rhythm section is superior and this sets the stage for the remainder of the disc. Wallace reprises two additional offerings form his Gershwin disc and offers a couple of originals, one, "Thangs," his transmogrified "All The Things You Are."

Wallace is a rare talent with a very personal, albeit idiosyncratic, style. Listening to this makes one wonder why his light continues to burn under a basket.


Track Listing: 1.It Ain

Personnel: Bennie Wallace: tenor saxophone

Title: Bennie Wallace In Berlin | Year Released: 2002 | Record Label: Enja Records

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