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Palmetto Records has struck gold again with Jeru Blue, Kansas City–based saxophonist Kerry Strayer’s heartfelt and picturesque salute to one of his earliest musical influences, the peerless Gerry Mulligan. It was after hearing a recording by Mulligan and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond that Strayer was hooked forever on the baritone, which he wields in a style influenced by Mulligan but with an assured and persuasive voice that is distinctively his own. To pay suitable homage to the master, Strayer brought together a star–laden supporting cast that includes three–fourths of Jeru’s most recent quartet (Rosenthal, Johnson, Vincent) and three seasoned and compatible front–line partners (Brecker, Nash, Mosca). For melodic inspiration, he placed in their capable hands eight of Mulligan’s enduring compositions and added one of his own, the visibly Mulliganesque “Jeru Blue.” If one doesn’t consider that a sure–fire recipe for musical success, his taste buds may need a check–up. In fashioning a program composed largely of works by Mulligan, Strayer has gone out of his way to avoid the obvious, choosing instead such lesser–known gems as “Rio One,” “Tell Me When,” “Dragonfly,” “Night Lights,” “North Atlantic Run,” “Idol Gossip” and the amusingly light–hearted “Oh, Mr. Sauter? Yes, Mr. Finegan?” (a bow to the forward–leaning bandleaders who answered to those names, on which Strayer sets aside the baritone sax in favor of soprano, as he does also on “North Atlantic Run”). Completing the syllabus is the more frequently heard “Festive Minor.” Nash, from whom we’d heard little recentlly, is in superior form (his solo on “Jeru Blue” is especially commendable), while Brecker is, as expected, dazzling throughout, and Rosenthal makes the most of his every solo opportunity with crisp, dynamic ad–libs that pass by all too quickly. Mosca, a trace more soft–spoken, is nonetheless nimble and convincing. As a whole, the ensemble is letter–perfect, strolling calmly or swinging fiercely with an appropriate blend of rigor and freedom. A captivating tribute to a Jazz legend, one that is easily recommended.
Track listing: Jeru Blue; Rio One; Tell Me When; Festive Minor; Dragonfly; Oh, Mr. Sauter? Yes, Mr. Finegan?; Night Lights (The Lonely Night); North Atlantic Run; Idol Gossip (58:06).
Kerry Strayer, baritone, soprano sax; Randy Brecker, trumpet, flugelhorn; John Mosca, trombone; Ted Nash, tenor sax, flute; Ted Rosenthal, piano; Dean Johnson, bass; Ron Vincent, drums.