The first thing one notices about Al Maniscalco's tenor saxophone is its smooth, burnished sound. He has obviously worked hard on that, as he has on his explicitly laid-back delivery. The next thought that springs to mind is that Maniscalco is an accomplished improviseron tenor or sopranowho always has a specific goal in mind and knows how to reach it while keeping the listener happily engaged. As one of his teachers was Bunky Green, that's readily understandable.
Maniscalco, of course, can't go it alone, and has surrounded himself with capable sidemen, of whom he speaks highly in the liner notes, and deservedly so. Drummer Eric Kennedy was there when Maniscalco formed the quartet more than ten years ago, bassist Jeff Reed came on board in '99, and pianist Roy Dunlap became, in Maniscalco's words, "the missing piece to the puzzle four years later. Together they form a tight-knit group whose purpose is to elicit as much warmth and beauty from the music as they possibly can. Mission accomplished.
Speaking of the music, it encompasses two originals ("Rainy Wednesday, "A Buttaful Tune ) by Maniscalco, Kennedy's "One Blessed Day," Dunlap's "Tell Me That You Love Me," mentor Bunky Green's "April Green, Jazz standards by Thelonious Monk ("'Round Midnight ) and John Coltrane ("Giant Steps ), the Simon and Garfunkel blockbuster "Bridge Over Troubled Water, Leslie Bricusse's "When I Look in Your Eyes, Johnny Farrow/Marty Symes' ballad "I Have But One Heart," the Burke/van Heusen standard "It Could Happen to You and the sunny Italian theme "Funiculi, Funicula.
Maniscalco gives each one a pleasant ride, reminding this listener on occasion of one of Philadelphia's undiscovered treasures, Larry McKenna. He plays soprano on "April Green and "Rainy Wednesday, tenor the rest of the way. Dunlap, Reed and Kennedy provide unwavering support, and Dunlap cooks up a number of tantalizing solos. Although Maniscalco isn't likely to become a household name, let there be no doubt that he can play, nor that his quartet is first-class. A splendid session, enhanced by well-modulated sound and liberal playing time.
Al Maniscalco: tenor, soprano sax; Roy Dunlap: piano; Jeff Reed: bass; Eric Kennedy: drums.