For most of his career, tenor saxophonist Bill Easley has worked as a sideman, including sessions for the Stax label. For just his fourth CD as a leader, his band includes pianist Larry Ham, bassist Hassan JJ Shakur and the seasoned drummer Michael Carvin on selections which draw from different eras of jazz.
Easley soars in his opener, "Straighten Up and Fly Right" (the Nat King Cole sermon-like hit inspired in part by his preacher father), which he jokingly refers to as "hip hop for senior citizens and their parents" in his liner note commentary. Easley's raunchy tenor is very much in the spirit of the late Illinois Jacquet, adding amusing alliterative announcements at times. He penned "Mentor" to honor fellow tenor player Frank Wess, who guests on this easygoing swinger. Easley is equally at home playing traditional jazz like WC Handy's "Memphis Blues," in which he doubles on clarinet and tenor, adding cornetist Warren Vache. The melancholy "Spring is Here" has a spooky introduction before mellowing out as the theme is introduced, while the usually lush "Chelsea Bridge" benefits from the Latin rhythm in a brisk arrangement.
The Off Broadway Woodwind Ensemble (whose members and instruments are not individually listed) provides backgrounds on several songs, including a hip calypso setting of "Anthropology" and a spirited interpretation of Randy Weston's "Hi Fly." This is a solid effort by a veteran worthy of greater attention.
Straighten Up and Fly Right; Mentor; September Song; Chelsea Bridge; In the Still of the Night; Hi Fly; Memphis Blues; Spring Is Here; Indian Summer; Anthropology; Just In Time.
Bill Easley: tenor sax, clarinet; Larry Ham: piano; Hassan JJ Shakur: bass; Michael Carvin: drums; Frank Wess: tenor sax; Warren Vach?: trumpet; Off Broadway Woodwind Ensemble.
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