That astute follower of new talent, Nils Winther, introduced us to up and coming tenor saxophonist Ari Ambrose in 1998 with a trio date sans piano that was as remarkable in its daring as it was in its pronouncement of a great new talent on the scene. Now comes along Cyclic Episode and we hear Ambrose in a more conventional line-up, but that electrifying sense of abandon and joie de vivre is still there, making this set another triumph.
Going for a collection of seldom-done pieces, Ambrose proves to be a shrewd judge of great music. Sam Rivers wrote the title track, Joe Zawinul’s “Early Minor” comes from the neglected Nat Adderley album You, Baby, and “Goodbye To Childhood” is a shinning jewel from Herbie Hancock’s transcendent Speak Like a Child. A take on Berlin’s “Remember” also suggests that Ambrose has done his homework by checking out Hank Mobley’s version from the classic Soul Station.
As a tenor stylist, Ambrose possesses a tone that’s full-bodied, but just a little rough at the edges. His fluidity is obvious over the course of the many choruses he spins during the opening “Gingerbread Boy.” Ballad work is a sign of maturity and Ambrose passes the test on “Early Minor” and “Goodbye to Childhood,” with a nod to Sonny Rollins obvious in the latter performance. The rest of the ensemble is also of the highest rank, Colligan and Drummond continuing to impress this reviewer as just about the most exciting thing since sliced bread.
So the saying goes, they don’t make ‘em like they used to, but if you’re looking for the kind of spirited jams that used to come with those old Blue Notes and Prestiges, then look no further than Cyclic Episode.