Tenor Titanium: The Roar of the Young Lions

Tom Greenland By

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Kim Bock

Eli Degibri
Emotionally Available
Fresh Sound-New Talent

Jimmy Greene
True Life Stories
Criss Cross

Chris Cheek
Blues Cruise
Fresh Sound-New Talent

In the old days, to make a splash in the big (Apple) pond you had to be a tenor titan. Nowadays you'd better make it titanium. Consider the daunting legacy of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and the like. What's an aspiring Bb saxopyhonist to do? Four new releases from a pride of young lions offer four unique perspectives on how to find one's "roar .

Kim Bock, hailing from The Netherlands via Berklee College of Music and the University of South Florida, makes his debut recording as a leader on Secrets, a collection of original compositions featuring Bock on tenor and soprano saxophones and bass clarinet, David Smith on trumpet and flugelhorn, Adam Armstrong on bass and Peter Retzlaff on drums. A chordless quartet, the group manifests cohesive rapport, creative tension and rapprochement, all of a piece. Bock's compositions are ideal jump-off points for group flight, with subtle counterpoint lines and pointillistic exchanges, containing just enough harmonic scaffolding to keep the painters from falling, yet allowing amble room for creative brushstrokes. Bock and Smith's musical alchemistry is immediately apparent, as on the dialogic outro of the title track, the echoed out-of-time effect on "65 Miles or the conversational interaction throughout "Cat in a Box . The harmony is implied in the taut logic of the improvisations, both hornmen showing courage and restraint in course of their solos. An excellent betginning, Secrets showcases Bock's writing and playing and, most of all, his ability to attune his talents to the voices of his contemporaries.

Eli Degibri is part of a wave of Israeli-born jazzers that includes trumpeter Avishai Cohen, bassist Omer Avital and pianist Omer Klein, all of whom have been made welcome in the subterranean ambiance of Smalls, among other venues. Joining Degibri on Emotionally Available, his sophomore outing as a leader, are Aaron Goldberg (piano, electric piano), Ben Street (bass) and Jeff Ballard (drums), all veterans of the saxophonist's 2004 maiden release, In the Beginning. For added flavor, Ze Mauricio (pandeiro) makes a cameo appearance on "Mika . Degibri's style is—for want of a better adjective, and at the risk of offending jazz "purists —highly accessible. That is, his lyrical gift eclipses the muscular complexity of his lines. His ideas tend to unfold like minimalist mobius strips, twisting inside-out in tangential trajectories in a burred, husky tone. Degibri nods to the titanic Coltrane in a re-harmed ballad rendition of "Giant Steps and bows to tradition in a boppish "Like Someone in Love, both outshined by his original compositions, composed of short, self-contained sections that amalgamate effortlessly into compelling wholisms. Check out "Big fish," "Pum-pum" and "Mmmaya." The group sounds large, especially Goldberg, who plays with verve and nerve.

Like Degibri, Jimmy Greene made significant developments in his sound on the Smalls bandstand, but rediscovered his roar in the church as a vessel of God. With the help of Jeremy Pelt (trumpet/flugelhorn), Xavier Davis (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass) and Eric Harland (drums), Greene combines the secular and the sacred on True Life Stories, his fourth release as a leader, which includes several church-based hymns ("How Great Thou Art , "A Closer Walk ), a standard ("My Ideal ), a Tin Pan Alley-esque chestnut from the pen of Harry Connick, Jr. ("Take Advantage ), a reworking of Monk's "Evidence (the title track) and three originals. Greene plays with a big boss tenor sound that ranges from a mellow whisper to smoky overblow; his harmonies are unusual, informed by post-bop composers and utilizing parallel motion. Davis is an empathetic and eclectic accompanist, Pelt exhibits his usual high-level craftsmanship and Harland creates signature backdrops with his deep-toned tom-toms and crashing cymbals.

Cheek's Blues Cruise finds him partnered with the former Fresh Sound/New Talent label 'house band': Jorge Rossy (drums), Brad Mehldau (piano) and Larry Grenadier (bass), a formidable cast of characters that have honed their collective language to a fine point. Cheek is a capable leader, steering the crew through a set of originals and well-chosen standards, the latter including Ellington's "Low Key Lightly , Mancini's "The Sweetheart Tree and a jazz treatment of Korsakov's "Song of India . Cheek expresses himself in long musical sentences, punctuated with just the right word, phrase or clause; while partaking of melodic materials well-grounded in the mainstream tradition, he never lapses into clichés and remains identifiably his own man. Mehldau, while not the most swinging of accompanists, nevertheless possesses a fertile and engaging intellect, one prone to intersting excursions onto intriguing side-paths. With the capable hands and feet of Rossy and Grenadier along for the voyage, Blues Cruise is a fine entry to Cheek's growing catalogue.

It's a jungle out there—overgrown and densely populated—but these cats are among the best of the bunch. Their roars will be heard.

Tracks and Personnel


Tracks: Secrets; 65 Miles; Pink; Cat in a Box; One Out of Nine; I Never Knew; Pivot Points; Sepone.

Personnel: Kim Bock: tenor & soprano saxophones, bass clarinet; David Smith: trumpet, flugelhorn; Adam Armstrong: bass; Peter Retzlaff: drums.

Emotionally Available

Tracks: Song for a Sad Movie; Big Fish; Like Someone in Love; Mika; Pum-Pum; Giant Steps; Wild Wild East; Mmmaya; Emotionally Available.

Personnel: Eli Degibri: tenor & soprano saxophones; Aaron Goldberg: piano, Fender Rhodes; Ben Street: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums; Ze Mauricio: pandeiro.

True Life Stories

Tracks: Re-affirmation; Song for Isaiah; My Ideal; Evidence/True Life Stories; How Great Thou Art; Unconditional; A Closer Walk; Take Advantage.

Personnel: Jimmy Greene: tenor & soprano saxophones; Jeremy Pelt: trumpet, fluegelhorn; Xavier Davis: piano; Reuben Rogers: bass; Eric Harland: drums.

Blues Cruise

Tracks: Flamingo; Low Key Lightly; Coo; Squirrelling; Song of India; Falling; Blues Cruise; John Denver; The Sweetheart Tree.

Personnel: Chris Cheek: tenor, alto & soprano saxophones; Jorge Rossy: drums; Brad Mehldau: piano, Fender Rhodes; Larry Grenadier: bass.


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