If I Had a Saxophone: Sonny Fortune, Al Foster, James Moody & Hank Jones, Lee Konitz, and Bob Mover

C. Michael Bailey BY

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Saxophones are ubiquitous in jazz music. That being so, releases spotlighting the instrument each year are legion. Here are five of the finer ones.

Sonny Fortune

You and the Night and the Music

18th & Vine Records


Can the ancient warhorse "Sweet Georgia Brown" still be relevant as a jazz instrumental vehicle? Alto saxophonist Sonny Fortune answers this question with commanding authority on You and the Night and the Music, a quartet outing he shares with pianist George Cables, bassist Chip Jackson, and drummer Steve Johns. Just as Anita O'Day did with the 1925 Pinkard/Casey tune in 1958 at Newport, Fortune takes the tune and detonates it at a nuclear tempo showing why trumpeter Miles Davis was happy to have him in his band in the early 1970s.

This recital has Fortune in a standard quartet anchored by the exquisite Cables. Fortune populates the album with noted standards given his own personal and unique treatment. Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight" is performed on flute to great effect. But it is Fortune's dry, reedy alto that steals the show. "You The Night And The Music" and "Charade" are given full throated treatment by the company. Like John Coltrane before him, it is hard to say that Fortune's tone is "pretty." It is immediately identifiable, and by the uniqueness, essential. Fortune may be more effective on up tempo tunes, but cannot be counted out on slower ballads.

Fortune spins Dizzy Gillespie's "Bebop" in such a way that the frenetic melody/harmony is brought into crystalline focus. Bebop (as a genre) slowed down slightly may no longer be bebop, but it is nevertheless educational. You and the Night and the Music is a nice jazz history according to Sonny Fortune. The saxophonist's chops remain impressive, and his choice in sidemen impeccable. This is a solid outing by a solid veteran.

Visit Sonny Fortune on the Web.

Al Foster Quartet

Love, Peace, and Jazz

Jazz Eyes Records


Hold on. Al Foster is a drummer, not a saxophonist. So why is he here? Well, because of his reedsman Eli DeGibri and the choice of Wayne Shorter's "ESP" for this set. Foster was a Miles Davis alum during that trend setter's early electric period. Here, however, Foster is in acoustic climes, though they sound more like middle period Coltrane than Davis' great quintets.

Recorded at New York City's Village Vanguard April 17-18, 2007, Love, Peace, and Jazz plays like a modern jazz recital post Davis' Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) with the exception of the inestimable Blue Mitchell's "Fungii Mama," that trumpeter's answer to Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." Eli DeGibri plays with a thin powerful tone that never overwhelms the band. His Treatment of Shorter's "ESP" is insightful as is his approach to Bill Evans' "Blue in Green" (incorrectly credited to Davis on the CD sleeve).

Foster allows his band to play unencumbered by his leadership. He is a generous band leader with more than enough chops to overpower his band mates. But he avoids this excess, ensuring that pianist Kevin Hays has his share of solo space, as well as bassist Douglas Weiss. The drummer thumps on "Fungii Mama," the rocking conclusion to this fine concert disc.

Visit Al Foster on the Web.

The James Moody and Hank Jones Quartet

Our Delight

IPO Records


Are there any other two jazz musicians whose presence on a recording gives it more urbanity and class than pianist Hank Jones and reed player James Moody? Hell, either one of them alone could rescue the most ill-conceived or misguided recording date. These are two elder statesmen (Jones born in 1918 and Moody born in 1925), among the last of the giants to be credited with making modern jazz modern jazz.

That said, this fortuitous meeting honors two other modern jazz giants, the late pianist/composer Tadd Dameron and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Anointed the "romanticist" of bebop by no less an authority than tenor saxophonist Dexter Gordon, Dameron was responsible for such jazz standards as "Our Delight," "Lady Bird," "Good Bait," and "Soul Trane," all of which are represented on Our Delight, Moody and Jones' first recording together. Dameron's music is elastic. It is pliable in such a way inviting different interpretations.

Jones and Moody dispatch the latter's former employer with loose, warm readings of "Birk's Works," "Con Alma," and "Woody 'N You." However, the centerpiece of the collection is "Body and Soul." Tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins' 1939 signature piece, the direct jazz descendant for Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues," Jones and Moody show why and how this piece of music is so important to jazz, just as they themselves are.

Visit James Moody and Hank Jones on the Web.

Lee Konitz and Minsarah

Deep Lee

Enja Records


Alto saxophonist Lee Konitz (born 1927) is only one of two living musicians out of the original twelve who took part in Miles Davis' 1949-50 "Birth of the Cool" nonet sessions (bassist Nelson Boyd, born 1928, is the other). Had Konitz done nothing else, his place in jazz history would have been secured by this association. But this is not all Konitz has done over the past 60 years. He has had notable associations with pianist Lennie Tristano (along with tenor saxophonist Warne Marsh). Konitz developed a unique alto style remarkably uninfluenced by his contemporary Charlie Parker. Along with Art Pepper, (whom he influenced), Konitz established the "dry ice" alto tone so prevalent on West Coast jazz recordings in the 1950s and 1960s.

Fifty years later, Konitz still has this tone, perhaps even more stripped down. It is unemotionally organic and intelligently informed. On Deep Lee, Konitz joins notable Berklee College trio, Minsarah (Hebrew for "prism") for a scoot through mostly originals by the band with a single standard sprinkled in. An apt band title as, with Konitz, the group effectively breaks jazz compositions into their component parts, making them (with time) four dimensional and capable of being entered and exited and inspected aurally from the inside out.

The disc opens with a three-part jazz suite composed by pianist Florian Weber. The first part, titled "Invention" is an ascending bit of new age, made boisterous by the drumming of Ziv Ravitz. "Chorale" is a slightly dissonant song made nervous by bassist Jeff Dennison's arco playing, resolving into the final part, "Canon," which calms the anxiety of "Chorale" without eliminating it completely. Konitz's tone is spare with breathy vibrato well captured sonically. Konitz's only contribution, "Deep Lee," displays the saxophonist's mastery of his alto craft. A nominal ballad, the piece is reminiscent of Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words crossed with Harold Arlen.

Much of the music on Deep Lee is stripped-down post-modern, a deconstruction of composition into its elemental parts. This is not the mere post-bop of Miles Davis' second great quintet and beyond. This is something further developed than that. The only standard, "Stella By Starlight," illustrates this with a loosened harmonic tether that might make the listener think of pianist Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard, 1961. Deep Lee emerges as perhaps the finest small-ensemble jazz release this year.

Visit Lee Konitz on the Web.

Bob Mover

It Amazes Me

Zoho Records


Bob Mover is Chet Baker with a saxophone, without the dope, the trumpet and the apathy. Mover and Baker have the same timbreless vocal style, devoid of all vibrato. It is an oddly androgynous style that is equally oddly appealing. Just as Baker's trumpet style was a reflection of his vocal style, so Mover and his saxophone style. "Crooner" is how Mover would have been described back in the day. The connection with Baker is no surprise. Mover played saxophone with the trumpeter during the mid 1970s to '80s. I will stop short of saying that Mover has a "pretty" voice. It is distinctive and interesting and with that going for a singer, the voice need not be pretty. His sax tone is light and informed, cool in that looking-through-cigarette-smoke sort of way.

Mover's repertoire is as interesting as his voice and saxophone. It Amazes Me is an eclectic mix of vocal pieces: mainstream jazz ("How Little We Know," "Stairway to the Stars"), Latin-based ("Ti Mi Delirio"), and the less than standard "standard" ("Deep in a Dream," "It Amazes Me"). This disc revolves around a core of selections. The lengthy "The Underdog" displays the best in both Mover's voice and saxophone. It is a slow ballad that sounds constantly in danger of losing the momentum to reach the coda. Just as the slow blues is one of the hardest styles to play, so is the slow ballad. Content-wise, "The Underdog" is a dark song like "One More for the Road." Given the slow tempo, the piece is rendered languid, the matter-of-fact admission that the singer is not what he or she expected remains unrealized.

Speaking of darkness, "Deep in a Dream," long associated with Baker, is impressively performed by Mover, who like Baker instills the piece with a soul fatigue, an opium dream soundscape that virally infects the listener with a warm narcotic glow. Mover's lone composition, "Erkin," allows the saxophonist/singer to show off is talent for the former in a proto-bop setting. The piece is introduced with a bass obligato that gives way to a duet between Mover and tenor saxophonist Igor Butman. The two trade solo space in a swinging and satisfying chess match. Finally, the Rodgers and Hammerstein ballad "People Will Say We're In Love," taken at a fast clip, really details Mover's tenor saxophone playing, which draws equally from Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon. Lovers of mainstream jazz, meet Bob Mover.

Visit Bob Mover on the Web.

Tracks and Personnel

You and the Night and the Music

Tracks: Sweet Georgia Brown; You and the Night and the Music; Charade; 'Round Midnight; Besame Mucho; Love Song; The End of a Love Affair; For Duke and Cannon; BeBop.

Personnel: Sonny Fortune: alto saxophone, flute; George Cables: piano; Chip Jackson: double bass; Steve Johns: drums.

Love, Peace, and Jazz

Tracks: The Chief; ESP; Blue Green; Peter's Mood; Brandyn; Fungii Mama.

Personnel: Al Foster: drums; Kevin Hays: piano; Eli DeGibri: saxophone; Douglas Weiss: bass.

Our Delight

Tracks: Our Delight; Birk's Works; Con Alma; Lady Bird; Eternal Triangle; Body and Soul; Good Bait; Darben The Red Foxx; Soul Trane; Woody'n You; Old Folks; Moody's Groove.

Personnel: James Moody: tenor saxophone, flute; Hank Jones: piano; Todd Coolman: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.

Deep Lee

Tracks: Three-Part Suite No. 1 Invention; Three-Part Suite No. 2 Chorale; Three-Part Suite No. 3 Canon; DeepLee, Stella By Starlight; Cactus; As the Smoke Clears; W 86th; See the World for the First Time; Color; Spiders.

Personnel: Lee Konitz: alto saxophone; Florian Weber: piano; Jeff Denson: bass; Ziv Ravitz: drums.

It Amazes Me

Tracks: How Little We Know; I Believe In You; The Underdog; (Tu Mi) Delirio; Erkin; Stairway To The Stars; Sometime Ago; Deep In A Dream; People Will Say We're In Love; It Amazes Me.

Personnel: Bob Mover: alto and tenor sax; Kenny Barron: piano; Dennis Irwin: bass; Steve Williams: drums; Reg Schwager: guitar (tracks 4, 6, 7, 9, 10); Igor Butman: tenor sax (5).

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