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Oh, how I’d love to use this disc as part of a blindfold test for those who roll their eyes or otherwise show their disdain when the discussion turns to women in Jazz who do anything other than sing or play the piano. I can almost picture the looks of shock and disbelief as I disclose that this baritone saxophonist’s name is Claire Daly and that she is the leader on this exemplary quartet/quintet date. What is the Jazz world coming to, the nay–sayers may wonder, when a woman not only chooses to play an instrument as large and unwieldy as the baritone but does so as well as any of her male counterparts. After two decades of gigging around New York and going on the road with various groups including the marvelous all–woman big band, DIVA, this is Daly’s first recording under her own name, and it’s a debut that is long overdue. To put it as concisely as possible, she’s something else. On the breezy opener, “I’ve Got the World on a String,” Daly’s unruffled approach and burnished tone remind one of the fabled Bostonian, Serge Chaloff. Elsewhere, as on “For All We Know” or “You Make Me Feel So Young,” she stirs memories of one of the greatest (and most sadly neglected) baritone masters of them all, Sweden’s Lars Gullin. But while the influence exerted by those giants (as well as by Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams and such recent poll–winners as Nick Brignola and Ronnie Cuber) is inescapable, Daly’s no robotic clone. She has found her own voice, and it’s as bold and persuasive as anyone else’s — male or female. She’s as comfortable with burners as she is with ballads, never overlooks a melodic phrase, has a gorgeous sound and always swings — low or high. Daly also has a keen sense of humor, as she shows on Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s playful ”Lady’s Blues,” on which she uses some squeals, honks and even a Kirk–style whistle to make her point. Daly invited Boston–area tenor George Garzone to sit in on three tracks, and he’s a standout on Lerner and Loewe’s “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face,” his own composition “The Chooch,” and the ironically chosen finale, Hoagy Carmichael’s “Little Old Lady” — which Daly is anything but. We haven’t mentioned the rhythm section, but should, as Yamin, Hofstra and Grant are impeccable in support and deliver consistently impressive solos whenever their turn comes around. Apart from its 49:57 playing time, the session as a whole is near–perfect. I do wish that Daly had been able to include at least one more highly appropriate standard, “Close Your Eyes,” because if you can do that, while opening your ears, you’ll hear an awesome baritone saxophonist who’s as dynamic and resourceful as any you can name. If you like the baritone, you’re gonna love Claire Daly. Encore!
Track listing: Swing Low; I’ve Got the World on a String; I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face; For All We Know; You Make Me Feel So Young; Lady’s Blues; The Chooch; Sharp Turn; I Wished on the Moon; I Thought About You; Little Old Lady (49:57).
Claire Daly, baritone saxophone; Eli Yamin, piano; Dave Hofstra, bass; Peter Grant, drums; George Garzone, tenor saxophone (3, 7, 11).