Even though Jerry Bergonzi
has nothing left to prove, after almost half a century near the top of almost every list of the jazz world's leading tenor saxophonists, he is hardly ready to sit back and rest on those laurels. On his latest album, Nearly Blue
(a sequel to the well-received Spotlight on Standards
), Bergonzi is supported, as before, only by organist Renato Chicco
and drummer Andrea Michelutti
, meaning his supple tenor is in action much of the time, which is fine with him, as taking the lead and running with it is what Bergonzi does best.
The ardent and invigorating session consists of seven standards and three of Bergonzi's perceptive original compositions ("Tectonic Plates," "While You Were Out," "Nearly Blue"). The album's well-chosen name, it should be noted, is both informative and accurate, as Bergonzi may flirt with "blue," as in sadness, but almost never gives way to that impulse, and the title track serves as the only "blues" on an otherwise upbeat menu; even when taken into account, it is, for the most part, as the title denotes, only "nearly" so. The only true "ballad" on offer is Carl Fischer / Frankie Laine's idealistic "We'll Be Together Again," wherein Bergonzi shows he is a master in that realm as well.
He is, on the other hand, even sharper and more persuasive when the pace quickens, as it does on "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "How About You?" and "On Green Dolphin Street." Or when he takes a familiar melody and turns it inside out, as he does on David Raksin's classic, "Laura." That is one of two numbers on which Chicco takes the first solo; the other is the animated opener, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "It Might as Well Be Spring." Chicco acquits himself well, as he does when supporting Bergonzi. "Spring" is taken at an agreeable mid-tempo clip that suits Bergonzi's spiraling tenor quite well. John Coltrane
's "Countdown," which follows, is another example of Bergonzi's distinctive way with a tune, as he renovates both melody and tempo without lessening its innate charm. "How About You?" is a more straightforward romp, "Tectonic Plates" more nebulous and shape-shifting but never less than enticing. Bergonzi's third original, "While You Were Out," an even-tempered bossa written when one of his students was a no-show, proves that someone who is astute and focused can often make excellent use of spare time. The Gershwin brothers' "Nice Work" is the only number on which Michelutti is able to flex his solo muscles, which he does with gusto.
Aside from offering a splendid showcase for Bergonzi and his Italian colleagues, Nearly Blue
shows that the tenor master, now in his seventies, remains at the top of his invariably impressive game. Those who love the sound and swing of a superlative tenor saxophone won't find many who fly those flags higher than Jerry Bergonzi.
It Might as Well Be Spring; Countdown; How About You?; Tectonic Plates; Nearly Blue; On Green Dolphin Street; We’ll Be Together Again; While You Were Out; Nice Work If You Can Get It; Laura.