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Greg Abate & The Tim Ray Trio: Gratitude: Stage Door Live @ the Z

Rob Rosenblum By

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If you are going to be a bebop purist, you have to resist the temptation to dress your music up to appeal to the masses. Greg Abate is one of those brave souls who worship at the altar of Charlie Parker, and depends on pure inspiration to capture his audience's attention.

Gratitude: Stage Door Live @ the Z is his latest recording and, according to form, there are no pop tunes or electric helpmates and gimmicks. The album relies on four highly-motivated and creative musicians, eleven tunes—eight of which are originals—and the kind of subtle interaction and simple but thoughtful arrangements that separate this venture from just another tired jam session.

While Abate thinks of himself as a multi instrumentalist, he strikes most of his fans as a hard-driving alto-saxophonist, who utilizes a few other instruments to break things up a bit. This album is no exception; while he plays some baritone, tenor and flute, his best efforts are on the smaller horn.

All but three of the selections are Abate originals. He obviously enjoys composing, and his melodies seem to connect with an inner passion.

This is a live recording and you can tell the quartet is inspired by the attention. The album kicks off with the title tune, a medium-paced Latin-flavored original. It is both relaxed and intense at the same time. Then things get juiced up a bit with "Bop Lives," a catchy, minor-key theme. Pianist Tim Ray stays pretty close to the changes, creating a logical and pleasant statement before handing over to Abate. He builds slowly on alto but, by the second chorus, he is all over the map, showing prodigious technique, throwing in some funky phrases, including a quick quote from "Work Song" and finishing it off with a flourish of 32nd notes.

Bassist John Lockwood stays in the same bluesy mood, with a wonderful tone and melodic clarity, finishing off his solo with a blur of notes. The tune finishes with Abate, Ray and Lockwood trading some spirited eights with drummer Mark Walker. This is one of the best selections on the album.

Ray takes a long, winding and fascinating journey through the Fats Waller classic "Jitterbug Waltz." Abate graciously lays out for the entire tune and the trio shines. Ray starts things out like a Les McCann tune and then, eventually, blends in the famous Waller refrain. Lockwood follow-up with gentle prompting by Ray and Walker and he doesn't miss a beat, throwing out some very low bent notes and fluid lines that make the big instrument seem pliant. Ray comes back with short crackling phrases, which fold into dancing chords that remind one of {Herbie Hancock} before handing it over to Walker for a solo, making good use of his tom.

Abate's flute, while not as impressive as his alto playing, offers a nice mood change on "Hazy Moon," with Ray inviting some comparison with Bill Evans with his warm chords and gently bubbling right hand excursions.

"In The Stratosphere" is an up-tempo burner, with Abate featured on baritone. He handles the monstrous instrument well, with surprisingly good intonation but, despite considerable technical skills, he doesn't seem comfortable and hugs the melodic line closely. After a nice solo by Ray, Abate and the pianist trade a few more eights with Walker, who has an uncommonly melodic flair.

"Farewell Phil Woods" is a touching ballad dedicated to the late alto giant, Abate's good friend and frequent on-stage colleague. It is nicely topped off by a long a capella foray by Abate.

Abate switches to tenor for Roland Kirk's flute masterpiece, "Serenade To A Cuckoo." The bigger horn seems a little heavy-handed for what is a sleek and whimsical tune. His solo is well put together, and he throws in a few shouts à la Stanley Turrentine, but Abate's personality doesn't really come through as well as it does on most of the other tracks.

Abate picks up flute for "Gemini," a brisk Latin number.

"Dracula" is an up-tempo tune somewhat reminiscent of "Giant Steps." Abate and Ray play a couple of choruses, but it is mainly a showcase for drummer Walker. He shows a lot of chops and excites the crowd.

"The Love of Life" is a tender ballad with Abate (on tenor) and Ray sharing portions of the melody, before the pianist takes a thoughtful and very well-constructed solo followed by Lockwood. Abate limits himself to a short a capella statement before bringing it home.

The album ends with Joe Henderson's abstract and angular "Inner Urge." Ray is appropriately bombastic. Abate soon comes in on tenor, with Ray laying out for a chorus. His solo is bombastic and frenzied, leading to a final foray by Walker.

Overall, this is a well-produced, well-recorded, thoughtful and enjoyable album. All the soloists have some very impressive moments and the trio is obviously in sync with Abate. This is not a simple blowing session, but rather a well thought-out presentation with a good deal of variety of tempo and harmony and a wide range of melodies. Every player on this album is a superb soloist, and they all have stand-out moments.

Track Listing: Gratitude; Bop Lives; Hazy Moon; In the Stratosphere; Farewell Phil Woods; Serenade to a Cuckoo; Jitterbug Waltz; Gemini; Dracula; For the Love of Life; Inner Urge.

Personnel: Greg Abate: alto, tenor, baritone sax, flute; Tim Ray: piano; John Lockwood: bass; Mark Walker: drums.

Title: Gratitude: Stage Door Live @ the Z | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: Whaling City Sound

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