The seductive charm that makes Benny Golson's "Whisper Not" so appealing has not diminished in half a century, as is evident when listening to the two performances found here, one recorded in 1956, the other just last year. The latter, with Al Jarreau singing the Leonard Feather lyrics with surprising sensitivity, comes from Golson's latest version of the sextet he originally formed with the late Art Farmer in 1959. The 1956 instrumental recording, by a nonet, is an opulent rendering with heraldic flourishes by Julius Watkins' French horn plus solos from Farmer's trumpet, Gigi Gryce's alto and Golson's rococo climactic tenor sax.
"Whisper Not" is one of many tunes that have made Golson one of jazz' leading composers. He has displayed an unfailing gift for suave melodies combined with elaborate and sophisticated harmonies, all spiced with rhythms ranging from sultry saunters to high-stepping marches. And his playing, like his compositions, never relinquishes melody, no matter how baroque or extravagant his bebop-inspired
harmonic flights may soar. So it's not surprising that on the new CD he includes interpretations of those romantics Chopin and Verdi, as well as an affectionate take on El DeBarge's "Love Me In A Special Way," complete with an R&B triplet rhythmic feel.
Six of the ten tracks on New Time, New 'Tet are from Golson's pen, including the Chopin and Verdi adaptations, the first a ballad feature for Harmon-muted trumpet, the second a stomping contrapuntal swinger. Trombonist Steve Davis, whose cool sound and melodic bent perfectly complement Golson, contributes "Grove's Groove," a piece in the tradition of Golson's "Blues March." Sonny Rollins' "Airegin" is given the Jazztet treatment in a performance highlighted by Eddie Henderson's crackling trumpet solo and Golson's low, slippery smooth tenor sax turn. Monk's "Epistrophy" is slowed down a bit, allowing the leader's solo to yearn and slither and providing deft turns for bassist Buster Williams and drummer Carl Allen. Golson's sumptuous, long-form ballad "From Dream to Dream" showcases Davis at his most lyrical and Mike LeDonne's elliptically tender piano musings. The frisky "Gypsy Jingle-Jangle" is Golson's most entertaining piece, mixing stop-time march and fast swing sections plus a tongue-in-cheek interlude for trombone and arco bass.
The Best Of CD concentrates as much on presenting Golson the improviser as it does the composer, with his early work represented by tracks featuring mostly quintets with trombonist Curtis Fuller. His solos reflect the influence of Lucky Thompson with intimations of John Coltrane's explorations, especially on an aggressive "Are You Real?" The heavy, breathy vibrato of Thompson, most prominent on a very slow "April in Paris" from 1959, became much less pronounced over the years, as tracks from the '80s on confirm, but Golson never lost that edge of velvet in his tone, nor that commitment to melody that make his solos on "Five Spot After Dark" (1997) and "Killer Joe" (2004) so warmly engaging.
Tracks and Personnel
New Time, New 'Tet
Tracks: Grove's Groove; Airegin; Dream to Dream; Whisper Not; Epistrophy; L'Adieu; Love Me in a Special Way; Gypsy Jungle; Verdi's Voice; Uptown Afterburn.
Personnel: Benny Golson: saxophone; Eddie Henderson: trumpet; Steve Davis: trombone; Mike LeDonne: piano; Buster Williams: bassist; Carl Allen: drums.
The Best Of
Tracks: Whisper Not; Reunion; Are You Real; Blues After Dark; I Didn't Know What Time It Was; April In Paris; Along Came Betty; Five Spot After Dark; Killer Joe.
Personnel: Benny Golson, Art Blakey, Ray Bryant, Paul Chambers, Kenny Dorham, Ray Drummond, Art Farmer, Tommy Flanagan, Curtis Fuller, Gigi Gryce, Barry Harris, Eddie Henderson, J.J. Johnson, Wynton Kelly, Marvin "Smitty" Smith, Arthur Taylor and others.