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Leo Richardson: The Chase


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News this week that Britain's Prince Harry's will marry American actress Meghan Markle in May isn't the only good word about British-American relations. Yesterday, I listened to British tenor saxophonist Leo Richardson's new album. It pays tribute to American hard bop. I'm happy to report that the musical coupling is a perfect match.

Released on Britain's Ubuntu label, Richardson's The Chase is loaded with hard-charging blowing. On the album, Richardson is joined by pianist Rick Simpson, bassist Mark Lewandoswki and drummer Ed Richardson, with special guests Quentin Collins on trumpet and Alan Skidmore on tenor sax. These guys have done their listening, especial Richardson. Not only are Richardson's eight originals in the tradition of hard-bop greats, the group also has all of the jazz style's peppery nuances down.

For hard bop to sound authentic, you need the drummers' taut push, the piano's funky tossing and turning, the paper-thin gap between horns playing in unison, a blues feel and an irrepressible collective energy and synchronicity. And solos must be muscular and hair-raising, not rambling wheel-spinners or banal back-peddling lines.

To my ears, the album's opener, Blues for Joe, channels Joe Henderson's fleet, robust saxophone on albums like In 'n' Out and Mode for Joe. Richardson tears it up, zipping through his solo with plenty of soul and zest.

Demon E is a slinky tune and may be a tip of the hat to Booker Ervin, based on Richardson's strong wailing throughout. He's joined by Collins on trumpet.

On The Curve, Richardson seems to have Hank Mobley's Caddy for Daddy in mind or Henderson's funk on Una Mas. A big swagger with boogaloo riffs.

The Chase isn't the bop warhorse by Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray in the late 1940s but a ferocious song by Richardson with Collins aboard. The pairing here reminds me of Freddie Hubbard and Tina Brooks on Hubbard's Open Sesame. A stunning piano solo by Simpson. 

Elisha's Song is a beautiful, introspective ballad with a Johnny Griffin approach on the saxophone.

Mambo opens with an extended bass solo by Lewandoswki. Despite the song's Latin title, the minor-key tune has more of a North African flavor, with a Sonny Rollins attack by Richardson.

Silver Lining has the melody line and sophisticated harmony of a Horace Silver original.

Mr. Skid features Richards and Skidmore battling it out, giving their saxophones a Coltrane workout.

Richardson is the son of bassist Jim Richardson, who recorded with Chet Baker in London in 1979 and 1983. Listening to this album, it's hard to keep the feet still. While the flavor is Blue Note, the execution is pure Richardson and his group of superb musicians. The hard bop is so authentic you keep waiting for one of drummer Art Blakey's press rolls.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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