Any short list of the finest alto saxophonists playing today must include the name Jim Snidero
who has been a force to reckon with on the New York City jazz scene for almost four decades. Snidero earns high marks on his latest album not only for his typically sharp and fluent improvisations but also for his resourcefulness in assembling a quartet to perform Live at the Deer Head Inn
in Delaware Gap, PA, during a devastating coronavirus pandemic. The recording was made in October and November 2020 with Snidero's group suitably distanced (and presumably masked, save for the leader) in front of a limited-capacity audience at the popular jazz venue.
The brave souls who accompanied Snidero onto the Deer Head stage were pianist Orrin Evans
, bassist Peter Washington
and drummer Joe Farnsworth
, more than likely the most capable rhythm section he could have mustered in the best of conditions, let alone during an untamed pandemic. Washington takes the album's first solo, on Charlie Parker
's bop classic "Now's the Time" (with Parker's daughter, Kim, in the audience), while Evans solos first on Leslie Bricusse & Anthony Newley's "Who Can I Turn To" (taken at a breezy tempo that suits it fine). Two of the eight selections"Autumn Leaves" and the finale, Jerome Kern & Otto Harbach's "Yesterdays"were recorded in November, the others in October.
"Yesterdays," normally a ballad but played here as an up-tempo burner, lends Farnsworth a chance to shine, which he does with alacrity, following another forceful statement by Snidero who has some fun with the melody on "Autumn Leaves," another "ballad" whose tempo is agreeably accelerated. Kern & Oscar Hammerstein's durable masterpiece, "Ol' Man River," from the 1927 musical Showboat,
is imparted with the warmth and sincerity it deserves, leading to another standard from the '20s, the more animated "Bye Bye Blackbird," and the tender ballad "Idle Moments." After one more even-tempered number, "My Old Flame," Snidero introduces the ensemble and presumably bids everyone good night, before "Yesterdays" abruptly surfaces to ensure a more harmonious farewell.
Even after so many years in the trenches, Snidero remains at the top of his sharp-shooting game. His supporting cast is equally bold and perceptive, making Live at the Deer Head Inn
a pleasure to hear and appreciate many times over.
Band Intro; Now’s the Time; Autumn Leaves; Intro to Ol’ Man River; Ol’ Man River; Bye Bye
Blackbird; Idle Moments; Who Can I Turn To; My Old Flame; Yesterdays.