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Frank Morelli / Keith Oxman: The Ox-Mo Incident

Jack Bowers BY

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Frank Morelli / Keith Oxman: The Ox-Mo Incident
East meets Midwest on The Ox-Mo Incident, wherein Denver-based tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman shares the front line with bassoonist Frank Morelli, whose day jobs include teaching at the renowned Juilliard School in New York City and several other citadels of higher education. Although it's a long trek from Juilliard and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (one of Morelli's sometime gigs) to working in a jazz quintet, Morelli's jazz chops are surprisingly keen, and he more than pulls his weight in spite of the bassoon's mostly deep and limited range (while it does have an upper register, that isn't its natural habitat).

The group rests for the most part in the familiar realm of Broadway, Hollywood and the Great American Songbook, with detours to accommodate Oxman's "Ox-Mo Incident" and "A Wasp in Search of a Hart and Lung," Gabriel Faure's poignant "Pavanne" and "Three for Five," a rephrasing of the third movement of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 3. Standards include the well-known "Happy Talk," "Full Moon and Empty Arms" (from Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2), "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," a brace of themes taken from Alexander Borodin ("Baubles, Bangles and Beads" and "Stranger in Paradise"), another inspired by Giacomo Puccini ("Poor Butterfly") and one from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady ("I Could Have Danced All Night"} The album's name (and title song) is a play on words, taken from the novel and film The Ox-Bow Incident, a grim narrative about a lynch mob's mistaken victims, superbly brought to the screen by Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Harry Morgan and others.

The quintet trades grim shades for blue skies on that one, as it does for the remainder of the session, where seldom is heard a discouraging word—or a less-than-felicitous frame of mind. Oxman's amiable tenor is smooth and lyrical, a splendid complement to Morelli's gruff and linear bassoon. The two are ably supported by pianist Jeff Jenkins, bassist Ken Walker and drummer Todd Reid who ensure their composure while giving them free rein to express themselves. If Morelli's bassoon sounds especially at home on "Pavanne," that's because he must have played that theme hundreds of times in other contexts. What is more unforeseen is his penchant for jazz and unassuming approach to the genre. Although a tenor/bassoon hybrid may appear somewhat strange at first blush, Oxman, Morelli and their mates make it work well beyond any presumed outcome. For those whose minds and ears are open to music whose artistry surpasses its disparity, a welcome even though unforeseen treat.

Personnel

Keith Oxman: saxophone, tenor; Frank Morelli: bassoon.

Album information

Title: The Ox-Mo Incident | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Capri Records

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