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Sonny Stitt: It's Magic

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This 2005 release of a shelved 1969 recording should hold the greatest interest for Sonny Stitt completists. The saxophonist is estimated to have led 150 recording sessions, of which I've now managed to collect 70—but given the current scarcity of some of his best recordings, including the out-of-print date with Oscar Peterson on Verve and the supreme Endgame Brilliance on the defunct 32 Jazz label, a collector can't afford to be too choosy.

As an instrumentalist, Stitt bears somewhat the same relationship to the American Songbook as vocalists like Billie Holiday or Frank Sinatra. On his 1950s albums for Roost or a session like this one, he would arrive at the studio with few preconceptions, lay down ten to twelve tracks, then leave several hours later with an LP's worth of textbook examples of the art of interpreting familiar standards. He may well be the most "perfect" player of them all (his solo on "Just Friends" should be proof enough), though certainly not the most adventurous or creative.

Stitt had a compulsion for closure: he rarely saw a tonic chord he couldn't resist. The result is solo after solo of consummate logic and structural wholeness, characterized by beautifully turned if predictable melodic ideas selected from a repertory of formulaic phrases, elegantly and seamlessly pieced together into compelling musical narratives. No alto or tenor saxophonist played with a purer, truer sound, right out of the blues yet devoid of the grit and rawness of the players who labored to sound authentically soulful.

In 1969 Stitt, unfortunately, was still occasionally going to his "Varitone" electronic octave doubler and continuing to record with organ accompaniment. The B-3 player on this particular session was Donald Patterson, his favorite, joined here by a drummer listed as "Billy Pierce" (though the Delmark website probably comes closer to getting it right by identifying him as Billie [sic] James, who was Stitt's preferred percussion mate at the time). The organ and horn both sound rather thin and distant on this Delmark recording, and there's a somewhat sterile ambience to the proceedings (as though the three insrumentalists were recorded separately and mixed later) on what is clearly a "commercial," if not perfunctory, session.

If you're new to Sonny Stitt, look first for another recent release (like New York Jazz or Work Done), but don't be overly quick to discount this album. It may be "just another Stitt side," but that can amount to high praise with a performer like this.


Track Listing: Four; On Green Dolphin Street; Parker's Mood; How High the Moon; Shake Your Head; It's Magic; Getting Sentimental Over You; Just Friends; Body and Soul; They Can't Take That Away From Me.

Personnel: Sonny Stitt: alto and tenor saxophones; Don Patterson: Hammond B3 organ; Billy Pierce [sic]: drums.

Title: It's Magic | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Delmark Records

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