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Steve Heckman Quintet: Search for Peace

Jack Bowers By

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Steve Heckman says he was inspired to play the tenor saxophone after hearing John Coltrane, especially Coltrane's A Love Supreme. Luckily, Heckman did not follow his mentor completely off the deep end but remained instead true to his bop-bred roots while developing a singular voice of his own on the tenor. On Search for Peace (a title Coltrane would no doubt have endorsed), San Francisco-based Heckman's fourth album as leader, Trane's impact is never far away but has been tempered by Heckman's experience and exposure to a number of other exemplars including (but not limited to) Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins, Michael Brecker, Sonny Stitt, Hank Mobley, Jerry Bergonzi and George Coleman. While there are times when Heckman sounds a bit like each of them, at the end of the day he sounds like Steve Heckman, which, as it turns out, is the nicest compliment that could be paid (as Pharoah Sanders once said of Heckman, "This cat can play!")

Yes, he can. And on Search for Peace Heckman is surrounded by others who can do the same: guitarist Howard Alden, organist Matt Clark, bassist Marcus Shelby and drummer Akira Tana. This is an excellent quintet whose members are perceptive soloists as well as congenial teammates. That helps make life easy for Heckman whose muscular tenor sets the tone on seven of nine tracks (he switches to baritone on Randy Weston's buoyant "Hi-Fly" and the haunting ballad "Autumn in New York"). On baritone, Heckman blends the full-throated sound of a Cecil Payne or Nick Brignola with the nimble phrasing of a Pepper Adams, Gary Smulyan or Ronnie Cuber.

The session opens with Blue Mitchell's sunny calypso "Fungii Mama" and closes with Coltrane's cleverly designed "Spiral." Also on the menu are guitarist Grant Green's emphatic "Grantstand," McCoy Tyner's pensive "Search for Peace," Monk's quirky "Pannonica," Sonny Clark's linear "Melody for C" and a fast-paced Heckman original, "Hangin' at Slug's." Alden solos astutely on most tracks, as does Clark, while Shelby and Tana provide a spacious comfort zone in which Heckman is able to roam freely and achieve his purpose. That purpose, of course, is to produce a sharp and engaging album, which is precisely the upshot of Search for Peace.

Track Listing: Fungii Mama; Grantstand; Search for Peace; Pannonica; Hi-Fly; Hangin' at Slug's; Melody for C; Autumn in New York; Spiral.

Personnel: Steve Heckman: tenor and baritone saxophones; Howard Alden: guitar; Matt Clark: Hammond B-3 organ; Marcus Shelby: bass; Akira Tana: drums.

Title: Search for Peace | Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Jazzed Media

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