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As he nears his 80th year, Roy Haynes is more than an astonishing fountain of youth; he is one of the true wonders of the jazz world. The master drummer, whose experience includes tenures with Lester Young, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, among many others, was unfortunately under-recorded for much of his career, but that sad state of affairs has been recently remedied with a series of excellent recordings for the French Dreyfus Jazz label, this latest one being perhaps the best, most representative documentation of his increasingly important role as a leader.
Recorded live at New York’s Birdland in December of 2002, Fountain of Youth features Haynes with his young working quartet of saxophonist Marcus Strickland, pianist Martin Be Jerano and bassist John Sullivan and is as rewarding for the mature, developed playing demonstrated by the sidemen, belying their youth, as it is amazing for the energy and exuberance displayed by the drummer at this stage of his life.
Strickland is stunning, starting things off with a striking bass clarinet introduction to an attractive new arrangement of “Greensleeves” before switching to soprano saxophone, the horn on which he is increasingly receiving deserved recognition as the premiere player of his generation—the combined result of his exceptional technical facility and a beautiful sound that is often more reminiscent of the exotic lyricism of Yusef Lateef than of his more frequently cited models, John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. He is similarly smooth on his other straight horn features, three staples of the Haynes playbook: the seductive “Summer Night,” pianist Dave Kikoski’s dramatic “Inner Trust,” and Pat Metheny’s moving “Question and Answer.”
Fountain of Youth features the saxophonist’s tenor on the disc’s other five selections, Irving Berlin’s “Remember” and four well known compositions from the jazz repertory: Oliver Nelson’s “Butch and Butch” (from the classic The Blues and The Abstract Truth, on which the drummer was featured) and three by Thelonious Monk—two rhythmic burners, “Trinkle Tinkle” and “Green Chimneys,” and the date’s one ballad, the beautiful “Ask Me Now.” Haynes’ drumming is joyous throughout and offers each selection a unique perspective, filled with emotional interjections from a performer who’s seen it all and knows how to show it.