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Gene Ammons: Boss Tenor

Matthew Aquiline By

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Tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons' tone can be best described using the qualities of an ideally brewed cup of joe: rounded, bold, smooth, and exhilarating after first taste.

Widely regarded as an original founder of the "Chicago school of tenor sax," Ammons' nonchalant, yet indelible sound—echoing the soft, breathy tone of Lester Young—drove him to a great deal of fame within the post- World War II jazz crowds of the '50s. Ammons, famously nicknamed "Jug," had an inherent ability to cultivate new emotion within any obsolete standard, stemming from his signature timbre that was steeped in the blues, gospel, and R&B. Renowned for his versatility, Ammons was well-versed in the bebop tradition, yet greatly influenced the marketable "soul jazz" movement of the '60s.

Throughout his fruitful career, Ammons was a stalwart player for Prestige Records; even after suffering through long stints in prison for drug-related charges, producer Bob Weinstock made sure that he would continue to share his gift until his death in 1974. While Ammons' association with Prestige documented historic meetings with his contemporaries such as Sonny Stitt, the most enduring of the catalog continues to be 1960's Boss Tenor—a classic effort that has been newly reissued by Analogue Productions as a part of their Prestige stereo reissues series.

Leading a dexterous backing group consisting of prominent pianist Tommy Flanagan, bassist Doug Watkins, drummer Art Taylor, and conguero Ray Barretto, Ammons jovially showcases why he was indeed a "boss tenor." Being the only horn player during this recording date, Ammons acquired the necessary space to properly illustrate his robust, commanding sound and general authority over his music and band. The eclectic mix of styles on the album helped to illuminate his diverse musical influences as well.

Whether it be during smoldering blues originals ("Hittin' the Jug," "Blue Ammons"), Latin-tinged bop classics ("Confirmation," "Stompin' at the Savoy"), or late-night balladry ("Close Your Eyes," "My Romance"), Ammons never fails to fall into a groove where expressiveness reigns above all else. His unwavering originality is best displayed during the album's revamped, contagious centerpiece, "Canadian Sunset," where every note played sounds as if it was deliberately picked with the utmost conviction. Overall, Boss Tenor is a sensitive, laid-back listen that evokes a multitude of raw human emotion.

Reissue label Analogue Productions proved their dedication to reviving the past with a silent 200-gram vinyl pressing (mastered from the original analog tapes) paired with a thick cardboard cover that mirrors the original. In terms of the mastering, engineer Kevin Gray did a phenomenal job; improving upon Rudy Van Gelder's original mixes is a daunting task, yet Gray managed to expose hidden subtleties that seemingly got lost in the original. Ammons' tenor saxophone sounds as vibrant as ever, especially with the touch of reverb that trails each of his notes. Reissuing a classic like Boss Tenor requires precision and accuracy, and from the looks and sounds of it, Analogue Productions delivered that in spades.

Track Listing: Hittin' the Jug; Close Your Eyes; My Romance; Canadian Sunset; Blue Ammons; Confirmation; Stompin' at the Savoy

Personnel: Gene Ammons: tenor saxophone; Tommy Flanagan: piano; Doug Watkins: bass; Art Taylor: drums; Ray Barretto: congas

Title: Boss Tenor | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Prestige Records

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