The late Sam Jones
is mainly remembered as an earnest craftsman whose perceptive bass lines undergirded the likes of Cannonball Adderley
, Oscar Peterson
, Cedar Walton
, Barry Harris
, Kenny Dorham
, Bobby Timmons
, Bill Evans
and a host of other jazz masters. Jones, however, had another special albeit lesser-known talent, one that is addressed here, almost forty years after his passing in 1981, by the TNEK Jazz Quintet. Jones, as it happens, was a superb writer whose keen ear for a melody was equaled by an unflagging propensity to swing. In fact, had Jones written no more than the classic "Del Sasser" (based on "The Night We Called It a Day") he would deserve a place of honor in the Hall of Fame for jazz composers.
"Del Sasser" is here, along with five of Jones' other memorable themes and one (the closing "Tragic Magic") by pianist Kenny Barron
. The quintet dives right in on the sunny "Unit Seven," a textbook example of Jones' ability to provide a lively and colorful framework for the ensemble and keep things humming for the soloists who include front-liners Benny Russell
(tenor sax) and Antonio Parker
(alto) along with pianist Darius Scott
. There's more of the same on "Bittersuite," with an added solo by bassist Kent Miller
, before the mood shifts to playful on "Some More of Dat" (perhaps inspired by Timmons' "Dat Dere"), on which Miller offers another sturdy solo. "Lillie," the session's lone ballad (nice intro by Scott), features Parker on alto, Russell on soprano and yet another handsome melody. The breezy "O.P." is next up, followed by any album's high point, "Del Sasser," whose irresistible line lingers in the memory even as Parker, Russell, Scott and drummer Greg Holloway drive it toward the finish line.
Barron's "Tragic Magic" is no less agreeable, lowering the curtain with a seductive melody and rhythmic drive that Jones would surely have endorsed. This is music the TNEK Quintet clearly enjoys playing, and the enthusiasm is evident throughout. The rhythm section (Scott, Miller, Holloway) is solid, the front line (Russell, Parker) capable if not singularly inventive. Although the source of the group's name isn't given, the name TNEK invariably spurs thoughts of a city in eastern New Jersey.
One drawback lies in the album's scant thirty-nine-minute running time. Setting that aside, what remains is a warm-hearted and well-designed (not to mention long-overdue) homage to a brilliant yet largely overlooked jazz composer.
Unit Seven; Bittersweet; Some More of Dat; Lillie; O.P.; Del Sasser; Tragic Magic.