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Steve Heckman Quartet / Quintet: Born To Be Blue

Dan Bilawsky By

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Saxophonist Steve Heckman often intentionally stands in the shadow of John Coltrane, as demonstrated on With John In Mind {World City Music, 2003) and Live At Yoshi's (World City Music, 2005), but he's no Coltrane clone. Heckman has absorbed bits and pieces of many masters, so a less exuberant, matte finished take on Sonny Rollins, a fondness for Zoot Sims ("I Remember Zoot") and a hint of Coleman Hawkins merge with the Trane influence to create something all together different, yet totally traditional. Heckman's music is straight ahead, built in the image of those who came before him, but his blend-born sound belongs to no one else.

Born To Be Blue finds this San Francisco-based saxophonist in good company, with three other Bay Area bigwigs, and New York-based guitar heavyweight Howard Alden, joining him. Alden's presence on the West Coast was actually the impetus behind the project, and it's easy to see why. His reputation as a clean, classy, sharp and creative accompanist and soloist is well-founded here, and he blends beautifully with Heckman's horn(s).

Standards of the swinging and soothing variety dominate, as Heckman holds down the fort with help from his more-than-capable sidemen. Drummer Akira Tana's light-handed ride work, bassist Marcus Shelby's centered and cushiony lines, and pianist Matt Clark's supportive pianistic framework all work hand-in-hand and support Heckman's musical vision, which includes the boppish ("Andrew's Pate"), the bluesy ("Born To Be Blue") and the beautiful ("The Things We Did Last Summer").

The brighter material ("Andrew's Pate" and "Without A Song") on the album is occasionally left wanting for a bit more fire and/or intensity, but the casual musical caucuses and slower soirees, which make up the majority of the program, aren't missing a thing. Heckman has mastered the art of the subtle seduction with saxophone in hand and, though clarinet ("I Thought About You") and bass clarinet ("Lazy Afternoon") don't figure prominently in the picture, they make an impression; both horns deserve a more prominent position in future productions.

Heckman has much to be proud of with Born To Be Blue; it's brimming with the soul and sound of a true saxophone sophisticate.

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 Taha: drums.

Title: Born to be Blue | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Jazzed Media

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