If you keep a record of insignificant data, file Billy Kerr under "N, for "names you should know but probably don't. There's a saying about musicians (one that I've never bought into) that goes something like this: "If you haven't lived it, you can't play it. On the other hand, it's an undeniable fact that Billy Kerr's playing is a mirror image of his personality. That is to say, nice. I've not met a slew of musicians, but I must admit that among them, Kerr is one of the warmest, friendliest guys (or gals) I've had the pleasure of saying hello to.
And I love The Eagle Has Landed... Eh?, a quartet/quintet date on which Kerr plays tenor saxophone, clarinet and flute and is as proficient on each of them as other musicians with whose names you are presumably far more familiar. Those who've heard the New York Saxophone Quartet will know what I mean. Kerr was a member of the group for eighteen years before moving to the West Coast several years ago. If further proof is needed, listen to his breathtaking three-minute introduction (on tenor) to "Body and Soul, his exquisite flute work on "The Birthday Waltz, "Love of My Life and "Northern Samba, or his cheerful clarinet on "The Eagle Has Landed and "Don't Get Clarinoid.
Kerr assembled a top-notch group of relative unknowns for this studio session, recorded eight years ago (!) in Montréal. Why it took so long to release is anyone's guess, but is certainly more a commentary on the music business as it exists today than on the talent involved in actually making the album. Pianist George Nakaidze is a resourceful accompanist/soloist, while trumpeter Charles Ellisonanother welcome new name to memakes the most of his four appearances with some crackling solos. Bassist Fraser Hollins and drummer Joel Haynes keep the rhythmic furnace stoked and sizzling.
There are only two flag-wavers ("Getting Sentimental, "Quasi-Modal ), and the group opens and closes with them. In between, most everything is relaxed and easygoingwhich is not to say it lacks heat or intensity. Kerr is a persuasive phrase-maker at any tempo, and what he has to say is always absorbing. As Abe Kestenberg writes in the liner notes, "Billy is one of those dedicated musicians whose life literally revolves around music, an assertion that is easy to verify and admire. But he also has time for people. You have to love a musician who dedicates an album to the man who introduced him to the saxophone, clarinet and, by extension, the world of music, his "mentor and friend, Rosario Coletta. As you'll no doubt agree, Rosario is an excellent teacher, Kerr a brilliant student.