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Chris Cheek: Saturday Songs

Budd Kopman By

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Sometimes, combining seriousness of intent and high musicianship with pure fun is just the thing one needs, and is exemplified by Saturday Songs from tenor saxophonist Chris Cheek.

Cheek does not make a lot records as a leader (see Blues Cruise from 2006), but is on literally scores of albums as a sideman (see Paul Motian's Garden of Eden from 2006 and Chris Lightcap's Epicenter from 2015), or his own discography, which is not completely up to date.

In any event, Saturday Songs shares quite a bit of the vibe of Lightcap's latest release. Here, as there we have a sterling band playing the leader's compositions and arrangements (with one exception, Tom Jobim's "Forever Green"), but with perhaps less of an inspirational connection among the tunes than Lightcap.

The band is made up of guitarist Steve Cardenas (who played with Cheek on Garden of Eden, David Soler on pedal steel, Jorge Rossy on drums, vibes and marimba (perhaps best know from Brad Mehldau's trio) and Jaume Llombard on bass. Although this is Cheek's records, he allocates plenty of space for the others, and in fact, Soler almost steals the record.

While the tunes as a set do not overtly exhude "Americana," the ubiquitous presence of Soler's pedal steel does locate the record's overall feel within that genre (with the exception of "Saturday Song," which sounds decidedly exotic). On the other hand, "Alhambros" which references the Alhambra's architecture, does not sound either Indian or Islamic. The tracks are very easy to listen to, since the the details of construction and arrangement are so well woven into the texture, but are not "easy listening"; any number of them ought to get quite a bit of airplay.

Each track has its own "personality" and the album contains a wide range of moods. Stand out tracks include "Bucky's Blues" which eventually becomes a coolly grooving jazzy blues, the nonchalant drive of "Ginger Something," the very pretty "While You Slept" with its long, unfolding melody, "Strawberry Jam"'s attractive higher energy and open improvisations and the slow and easy Jobim tune, "Forever Green."

Picking these tunes out in no way is meant to diminish the others, since Saturday Songs will no doubt get played many times by anyone and everyone.

Track Listing: String Finger; Ginger Something; Eye Factory; Buckey's Blues; Either Way; Slow Ship; Saturday Song; Alhambros; Forever Green; Strawberry Jam; While You Slept; Windmill Hill .

Personnel: Chris Cheek: tenor saxophone; Steve Cardenas: guitar; David Soler: pedal steel; Jaume Llombard: bass; Jorge Rossy: drums, vibes, marimba.

Title: Saturday Songs | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records

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