The Alex Garnett who peers out of the cover of Serpent
looks a little aggressive and wil0- eyed, with odd vertical slits where his pupils should bea serpent indeed. The Garnett on the inside is more benign, but with a contemporary hipness. In the excellent black and white back cover photo, the besuited saxophonist is cool and focused, the stylish bopper who could easily have been photographed on a 52nd street club stage in the '50s. When he plays, Garnett reveals himself to be all three men: wild, hip and cool in turn.
The British alto and tenor saxophonist has been a professional player for 20 years, a first-call sideman for artists as diverse as Scott Hamilton
, Wynton Marsalis
and Van Morrison
and a regular member of the Ronnie Scott
's All Stars. Serpent
is his recording debut as leader: a straight-ahead session strongly infused with the blues. Recorded in one day in 2009 at Systems Two in Brooklyn, this all-originals session impresses on numerous levels, including the quality of Garnett's writing, the playing skills of the individual musciians and the way in which they lock in together as a unit despite relatively little rehearsal (a deliberate strategy on Garnett's part).
Garnett is accompanied by a trio of top American players. UK-based bassist Michael Janisch
, pianist Anthony Wonsey
and drummer Willie Jones III
form a strong partnership, supporting Garnett's lead playing sympathetically and seizing their chances to solo. Serpent
features two slow but contrasting tunes: "Three For A Moor" is a warm and inviting ballad; and "Dracula's Lullaby," as befits its title, has more of a noir
-ish feelthanks, especially, to Wonsey's sparse chordal work and Janisch's bass solo. More upbeat tunes, like the catchy "Blueprint," which features a surprisingly funky arco solo from Janisch, and the slinky, Latin sound of "The Pimp," swing from the first note. "Saluda Hakim" is a tribute to Charlie Parker
, a swinging bop composition with an irresistible hook and fine solos from every musician, while "Atonement" is Garnett's smoothly flowing take on "When The Saints Go Marching In." Serpent
's title is a reference to a precursor of the saxophone, and recognition of the inventiveness of Adolphe Sax. It's the musicians' inventiveness that stands out on the album, however, a belated but emphatic debut for Garnett as bandleader.
Lydia; Three For A Moor; Blueprint; Dracula's Lullaby; Saluda Hakim; The Pimp; Serpent; Atonement.
Alex Garnett: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Anthony Wonsey: piano; Michael Janisch: bass; Willie Jones III: drums.