The Great American Standard is a nourishing Mother. No matter how far away one might stray, or who has mined there before, the Canon always welcomes further improvisatory exploration. The challenge, of course, is for the artist to honor the source appropriately.
With Born to Be BlueBay Area saxophonist, Steve Heckman takes us on yet another tour of familiar GAS workhorses. In doing so, he displays a formidable ability to wring new juice from seasoned fruit. It's an enjoyable ride, even if we know all the stops.
Melody and restraint are King and Queen on this recorded effort. Heckman performs melodies in a straightforward manner with only mild embellishment. His tenor is cool and swinging rather than overly complex. When he mines, he covers the changes impeccably with flair and ease, avoiding the temptation to over-intellectualize or grandstand. His sound is classic softer-edged, melding well with the format at hand.
There are vivid retrospective shades to Born to Be Blue. It channels the classic saxophone/rhythm section offerings of the 1950s ("Andrew's Pate" "How Deep Is the Ocean" and Heckman's neat original, "I Remember Zoot"). Heckman's gorgeous clarinet on "I Thought About You" and perfectly-selected bass clarinet on the Impressionistic "Lazy Afternoon" demonstrate Heckman's substantial multi-axe chops.
The rhythm sectionhighly cohesive and involvedworks exceptionally well with the leader across the date. Guitarist Howard Alden shines with rhythmic and harmonic savvy and scores when he steps out ("How Deep Is the Ocean" "Things We Did Last Summer"). Pianist Matt Clark offers fine solos (Bill Evans' "We Will Meet Again") and sound support. Bassist Marcus Shelby pushes and drives like his four- wheeled namesake. Akira Tana's tasteful drumming stands out with intelligent cymbal work.
One might guess that the last cut, "Without A Song," has to be a wry entendre. That's because Born to Be Blue assuredly offers wonderfully robust song platforms that are saluted and swung by Heckman and some exceptionally talented performers.
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.
Steve Heckman: tenor and alto saxophones, clarinet, bass clarinet;
Howard Alden: guitar; Matt Clark: piano; Marcus Shelby: bass; Akira