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Michael Cox: Compassion

Mark Corroto By

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Compassion by saxophonist Michael Cox evokes thoughts of sausages. Specifically, how they're made and for what purpose. Think about it, have you ever had an unforgettable hot dog? No. Even if you ate one at the World Series, you could never call it memorable. That wasn't its objective. So, let's talk of cured meats. The luxury of prosciutto, pancetta, coppa, or culatello is indelible.

The same thought may come when Cox records a session with drummer Matt Wilson and legendary bassist Buster Williams. Besides leading their own groups, you can often hear the bassist, drummer, and organist/pianist Gary Versace on hundreds of studio sessions. Are they making tube steaks here? Nope. We're talking artisanal food.

For Cox the curing process has been a lengthy one. It's been nearly twenty years since the release of Abstractions, Dedications, & Red Dirt (Cojazz, 1999), a trio session with Wilson and the late Dennis Irwin. It's not that he hasn't recorded as a sideman, or with the Columbus Jazz Orchestra where you can catch a solo here and there. It's probably better to explain that his music has deepened and added flavor through a craftsman's maturation process.

To understand how they make the sausage here you need to know that Cox's friendship with Matt Wilson goes back to college and Wilson's connections with Versace (in the drummer's Arts & Crafts quartet) and Williams in Denny Zeitlin's trio. Knowing the connections, you understand there were no hired guns here, and the music reflects this fellowship.

Cox wrote just four of the eleven tracks, deferring to his musical family, guitarist Stan Smith and the late pianist Mark Flugge, for the bulk of the material. William's bass solo towers over "Yarnek," the opener, sliding the modal piece into an effortless exercise of groove. The leader's choice of music reveals his influences. Obvious reference is made to Sonny Rollins on the calypso flavors of "Sunny Rhythm" and to Lee Konitz with Versace playing the Lenny Tristano role on "Familiarity." The ease with which Cox switches from tenor to alto saxophones, then flute on "Used To Be," is a tribute to his maturity and skill as a musical storyteller.

The highlights here are many. With a bit of overdubbing, Cox plays both tenor saxophone and bass clarinet on "Mi-Fa-So F'Ornette," which opens up much like those classic Dewey Redman Old And New Dreams sessions. Sitting in on his original composition "Cheryls," guitarist Stan Smith pairs with Cox's soprano saxophone and Versace's piano. The switch to organ finds Versace streaming an infectious joy, with Cox again overdubbing two horns on his composition "Blackjack Blues" and the title piece "Compassion For All." Mr. Cox, please don't make us wait another twenty years.

Track Listing: Yarnek; Blackjack Blues; Familiarity; Charyls; Sunny Rhythm; Used To Be; Adagio; Soirée; Compassion For All; Mi-Fa-So F’Ornette; More ; Cheryls.

Personnel: Michael Cox: tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, alto flute, bass clarinet; Gary Versace: piano, organ; Buster Williams: bass; Matt Wilson: drums; Stan Smith: guitar.

Title: Compassion | Year Released: 2018 | Record Label: Cojazz Recordings

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