You can't call Dick Oatts a 'fixture'he's peripatetic and bouncy on his alto sax and ebullient, energetic and sprightly as a personyet he's surely been a Gotham mainstay since arriving from the Midwest a mere 35 years ago, both as reedman (33 years as lead alto in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis > Vanguard Jazz Orchestra) and educator (over 20 years at Manhattan School of Music). Two new albums show him in fine fettle, exhibiting a candid cordiality and conversational freedom that foster unusual interpenetration of ideas.
In a quintet with trumpeter Terell Stafford
, Oatts' playing recalls the pristine wide-eyed candor of Davey Schildkraut in Miles Davis' 1954 quintet: effervescent, ineffably joyous and bright-toned. Oatts' writing is more poised and grounded: he wrote nearly all the clean, crisp, in-the-pocket post-bop charts that span Bridging The Gap
. (Exceptions are Stafford's blazer "Time To Let Go" and a sly Latin-tinged, stop-time spin on Cole Porter's "I Love You.") Originals run from genial toss-offs like the bluesy closer "6/20/09 Express" to finely-crafted introspective pieces. Gerald Clayton
's post-Hancock piano work merits kudos for brevity and punctiliousness, notably his exquisitely poised paeans on heart-stopping ballads "Meant For You" and "JCO Farewell," a haunting tribute to Oatts' sax-playing dad Jack.
Head-to-head skirmishes between Oatts and tenor giant Jerry Bergonzi
bring out the best in both horns. Fleet to the edge of glib prolixity at times, Oatts and Gonz open up areas of high-toned melodic expressiveness that touch on the cool and heady Tristano-esque extrapolations of Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh (thus bassist Dave Santoro conjures up one of his witty titles, "Cranial Bypass"). Sometimes they bubble up like their oft-mentioned forerunners, Paul Desmond's dry martini and John Coltrane's sheets to the wind. Only occasionally do they weigh in with the more stolid ruminations of Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. In any case, the two consistently exhibit that brazen freshness and avian freedom that contribute to jazz being 'forever young,' cogently backed by Santoro and drummer Tom Melito.
Tracks and Personnel Bridging the Gap
Tracks: Bridging The Gap; Time To Let Go; Meant For You; Three For Five; Salvador's Space; I Love You; JCO Farewell; Ben's Beginning; The 6/20/09 Express.
Personnel: Terell Stafford: trumpet; Dick Oatts: saxophone; Gerald Clayton: piano; Ben Williams: bass; Rodney Green: drums. Saxology
Tracks: Cheapo Steaks; Cranial Bypass; King Henry; L. W.; In Passing; Mobius; Flight Of The Dodo..
Personnel: Tom Melito: drums; Jerry Bergonzi: tenor sax; Dick Oatts: tenor sax, alto sax; Dave Santoro: bass.