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Earl May Quartet: Swinging the Blues


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He may not have recorded much as a leader, but there are few jazz greats over the past forty years or so that haven't played or recorded with bassist Earl May, including Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. His duet recordings with John Coltrane are unusual in the great saxophonists discography; his recordings with Sonny Stitt and Billy Taylor are also widely appreciated. May has always been lauded for his full, bluesy sound and subtle accompaniment, and these characteristics are fully evident on Swinging the Blues .

Swinging the Blues presents May and a fine quartet that successfully unites different generations in an obvious devotion to the traditions of jazz. The other senior member of the quartet, drummer Eddie Locke, has also been a familiar name among the greats of jazz, including quartet recordings with Coleman Hawkins and Tommy Flanagan. Taste, a fine touch, and a lively imagination are all apt descriptors of Locke's talents.

Swinging the Blues opens with the title track, and demonstrates why Locke has been so much in demand over the decades. His fine work with the cymbals and his understated accompaniment are both in full swing; his solo work is also highlighted with several concise and imaginative statements. The power and cohesion of this quartet is evident right from the start, with Earl May driving the band with presence that does, indeed, swing the blues.

"My Foolish Heart highlights May's affinity with bassists such as Oscar Pettiford and Ray Brown. He's the solid foundation of all that transpires, and his solo work, intertwining with David Glasser's thoughtful alto, is one of the highlights of the session. Perhaps the most representative track of the recording is Glasser's wonderful "Under African Skies, in which everyone solos and the rapport of the band is particularly evident. The whole CD is a study in how a tight rhythm section can direct and inspire a band.

The two younger, middle-aged, members of the quartet are fine musicians who are well on their way to establishing themselves as significant talents on the national and international jazz scenes. Both Glasser and pianist Larry Ham bring extensive professional experience to the stand; they are both poised professionals who play with intelligence and taste.

Ham is a versatile player capable of effortless sounding bebop lines and emotionally acute ballad interpretations. He plays with a touch that is evidence of a significant classical background while having the jazz ears and lack of ego to mesh beautifully with May and Locke. Undoubtedly we'll all be hearing from Glasser and Ham long into the future. Another Arbors recording from this fine quartet would be a very good place to start. This is a beautifully recorded quartet session from a band that understands what jazz is all about.

Track Listing: Swinging the Blues; Blame It on My Youth; My Foolish Heart; Tea for Two; Blue Iridescence; Make Someone Happy; Under African Skies; Sioux Suite; My Old Flame; Confirmation; Wishes Are Starting to Don

Personnel: Earl May: bass; David Glasser: alto saxophone; Larry Ham: piano; Eddie Locke: drums; special guest: Barry Harris: piano (4, 9).

Title: Swinging the Blues | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Arbors Records


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