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Steve Marcus Project contains some of the tenor and soprano saxophonist's last recorded performances (he died in October 2005), but oddly opens with "Oleo, recorded by his sidemenguitarist Bill Bickford, bassist Rick Petrone and percussionist Joe Corsellowithout him. The fact that Marcus does not play on the first track sets a certain tone; one keeps expecting his lilting saxophone to come in but it never does. Although Bickford is a skilled guitarist and Corsello an imaginative drummer, "Oleo feels lackluster; it is straight-ahead jazz gone astray without a leader.
And so it almost comes as a relief when we hear Marcus playing delicately on pianist Marc Copland's heartrending "Country Road. It's a bit of a call-and-response between Marcus, elegant and bird-like and Bickford, nonchalant yet ruminative.
John Coltrane's "Up 'Gainst The Wall presents Marcus as a versatile saxophonist, his tone headier and more daring, but still with the same fluttering quality found on "Country Road. He and Bickford have a great rapport going, as is also evident in the Copland tune, but the two also know when and how to utilize Petrone and Corsello. Petrone's solo in this bluesy tune is cool and sinewy and Corsello's improvising is always on the ball.
But for "Oleo, this disc is a noble effort, consisting of jazz standards by the likes of Sonny Rollins, Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Chick Corea, which allude to Marcus' experience in fusion and post-bop. The late saxophonist put together an excellent band, whose prescient members accentuate his versatility, making this a worthy last recording for the underappreciated yet immensely talented player.
Track Listing: Oleo; Country Road; House of Cads; Skylark; Up 'Gainst the Wall; Footprints; Serenade To A Cuckoo; Steps.
Personnel: Steve Marcus: tenor and soprano sax; Bill Bickford: guitar; Rick Petrone: bass; Joe Corsello: drums, percussion.