Much is made of the influence of John Coltrane on multi-reedist Steve Heckman. His third recording, Born to be Blue finds Heckman delving deeper into the standards territory, Coltrane's residual influence showing up in Heckman's slightly raspy, dry tone, but not anything as caustic as Coltrane's take-no-prisoner timbre. This is not Heckman's pass at Ballads (Impulse!, 1963) What this recording reduces to is a very pleasant mainstream exercise performed by professionals at the top of their game.
The presence of guitarist Howard Alden further promotes this session as a mainstream affair, tasteful, with little experimentation. Matt Clark directs the performance from the piano seat, providing durable accompaniment and engaging solos when asked. The highlight of this disc is when Heckman changes to clarinet or bass clarinet (though his alto on the title piece is very fine). Heckman's clarinet on "I thought About You" is spot on. His tone is firm and uniform and his command competent. Bassist Marcus Shelby sets up a gentle walk that Alden strums and solos over. But it is Heckman that flexes his muscles, showing that the clarinet remains an essential jazz instrument.
Heckman plays Jerome Moross' brief "Lazy Afternoon" on bass clarinet, showing that this instrument was not just a sonic curiosity. Heckman is lyrical and able to use the instrument to register solid pathos in the lower register. For all of the Coltrane talk, Heckman reveals himself his own man with his own ideas, an extension of that master who inspired him.
Track Listing: Alone Together; Moon and Sand; Andrew's Pate; Born To Be Blue; How Deep Is The Ocean; I Thought About You; We Will Meet Again; The Things We Did Last Summer; I Remember Zoot; Lazy Afternoon; Without A Song.
Personnel: Steve Heckman: tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet;
Howard Alden: guitar; Matt Clark: piano; Marcus Shelby: bass; Akira