Strangely enough, recordings pairing tenor players are not unusual. Sonny Rollins did it with John Coltrane on Tenor Madness ; more recently Joe Lovano with Joshua Redman on Tenor Legacy ; even Chris Potter did it with Joe Lovano on a few tracks on Vertigo. Why this particular variation of saxophone is more conducive to teaming up is a mystery, but it always seems to work. Now Scott Hamilton has come together with next generationer Harry Allen for Heavy Juice , an album that proves that even if you are rooted in the same place in history there can be differences.
That both Hamilton and Allen come from the Ben Webster school is unmistakable. But there are other shared roots, most notably those of Zoot Sims and Stan Getz, although Allen's velvety tone clearly shows more Getz than Hamilton's rougher edge. And so, while you can have two players coming from similar spaces, their playing can be discerned. But a common denominator with the two players is a predilection towards easy-going swing and a complete aversion to more modern extremes. These are two players who are clearly locked into a tradition and, therefore, don't break any new ground. But they share a firm understanding of blues, swing and bebop traditions, making this an engaging set that is as easy to take as a cool summer breeze.
On a programme that blends classic swing tunes like Benny Goodman's "If Dreams Come True" and Duke Ellington's "Warm Valley" with the bebop of Dizzy Gillespie's "Groovin' High" and "Ow!" Hamilton and Allen may come across as somewhat anachronistic, but that doesn't detract from the comfortable grooves and relaxed exchanges between these two players. Pianist John Bunch has the kind of history that makes him the perfect accompanist, having played with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, not to mention another tenor pairing, that of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Bassist Dennis Irwin, comfortable in styles as wide-ranging as the hard bop of Art Blakey and the more modern post bop of John Scofield, anchors with ease, while drummer Chuck Riggs has a long history with Hamilton and demonstrates a subtle touch and light approach.
With an album that moves along with intention and a strong comfort level, Hamilton and Allen don't display the kind of fire of some other classic tenor pairings, including Rollins/Coltrane and Dexter Gordon/Gene Ammons. Still, with Heavy Juice they have made a recording where the friendship is clear. Rather than compete with each other they work together to inspire each other to greater heights, and there are many fine high points to be found.
Track Listing: Heavy Juice; Did You Call Her Today?; Groovin' High; If I Should Lose You; Blues Up and Down; If Dreams Come True; Warm Valley; Ow!
Personnel: Scott Hamilton (tenor saxophone), Harry Allen (tenor saxophone), John Bunch (piano), Dennis Irwin (bass), Chuck Riggs (drums)
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