Nick Brignola was one of the most robust baritone sax players and could burn with the best of them. Even though he usually took a back seat to Gerry Mulligan or Pepper Adams in popularity polls, he was starting to see more of the limelight before he died of cancer in 2002, drawing in more fans and critical acclaim (though he always had a decent share of both). A good example of what one would encounter in a club can be found on his latest Reservoir Music release, Things Ain’t What They Used to Be: Last Set at Sweet Basil
(RSR CD 174), recorded in 1992. Nick is in fine form, not only on baritone, but also alto, soprano and clarinet. (He also had a fine tenor sound.) The record under consideration here is a followup to Live at Sweet Basil: First Set
(RSD CD 125).
The opening strains of the title cut set the stage for the set, Nick blowing a hearty blues on the Ellington standard. Speaking of blues, the leader wails on soprano on “Blues for Phyllis.” “You Go To My Head” is done as a samba, with Brignola showing a bouncy, playful side. He was at home in any jazz style – a great soloist with interesting things to say. “In So Many Words” shows his sweet side, and “In Your Own Sweet Way” has the deep baritone caressing a ballad then taking the song into a mid-tempo adventure. At its most bluesy or most screaming, Brignola’s work is uplifting and exhilarating.
Pianist Mike Holober, who wrote three of the seven tunes on the album, is crisp and swinging throughout and the rhythm is held nicely by drummer, Dick Berk, a longtime friend of the sax man; and bassist rich Syracuse, a fellow Upstate New Yorker who often played with Brignola.
Seeing Brignola in concert was always a pleasure and he played strongly, unfaltering, right up until he bowed out because of ill health. He put his heart into each time, enjoying the music and the musicians he surrounded himself with. This live Sweet Basil set conveys that easily and naturally, like Brignola’s playing.