We all make our choices in life, and perhaps saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi's desire to teachwhich has resulted in a position at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston as well as several acclaimed books on improvisationexplains why he does not have the name recognition (and big major label contract) of some other tenors. Judging from this Savant release, Tenorist, it sure ain't the music.
This disc is full of strong tunes and exciting playing, but alas and alack for the marketing wings of said major labelsno "startling use of electronics, no Radiohead covers, and no edgy political statements. Just modern jazz of a high order, which, if there is any justice in the world, will be enough to gain the listeners Bergonzi deserves.
Tenorist is boosted from "good to "great by the presence of the always-interesting guitar of John Abercrombie, who alternately supports and spars with the leader on seven Bergonzi originals, Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica, and Kenny Dorham's "La Mesha. Things get off to a good start with the loping "Gecko Plex, which sounds something like a classic bop theme played at the 16 rpm setting on some old turntable, which gives it a film "noir gumshoe flair. Bergonzi can work into the nooks and crannies of a melody like Sonny Rollins, a gift that is most clear on the abovementioned Monk tune, which also features a nice solo by bassist Dave Santoro.
The shuffling "Table Steaks and the off-kilter Latinized twitch of "Czarology swing hard, the latter featuring some gasp-inspiring simultaneous guitar-and-sax soloing over excellent playing by longtime Bergonzi drummer Adam Nussbaum. The overdubbed harmony sax theme of "With Reference recalls Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz more than anything, but the tune quickly enters the modern world with long and exhilarating solos by Abercrombie and Bergonzi. Fans of the guitarist can do no better than his work on "Creature Feature, which goes out against some tight and tense grooving by Nussbaum and Santoro. Great stuff, one and all.
For the many who know of Jerry Bergonzi only vaguely, Tenorist will be a revelation. It serves as a potent reminder that this tenor man belongs in the top rank, and that straight-ahead jazz, minus the gimmicks, has still got it.
Gecko Plex; Pannonica; Simultaneous Looks; Table Steaks; La Mesha; Czarology; With Reference; Creature Feature; On Again Of Again.
Jerry Bergonzi: tenor sax; John Abercrombie: guitar; Dave Santoro: bass; Adam Nussbaum: drums.