Down and dirty cutting contests are nothing new in Jazz and their allure seems to transcend any idiomatic boundaries in the music. There’s a long lineage to draw on from the spirited jousts of Lester Young and Herschel Evans in the early incarnations of Basie’s Orchestra to Long Tall Dex and Wardell Gray slugging it out on the seminal bop brawl “The Chase.” Even a glance at the specs on this session should reveal it for what it is- a blowing session built on the prodigious talents of two Chicago-based titans of the tenor saxophone. An examination of the fare for the date gives further conspicuous clues. Five standards, with three clocking in at over fifteen minutes- a strong indication that these guys came to blow the roof off the rafters! Mirroring the succinct title of the disc Freeman and Peterson dispense with pleasantries, throw their cash into the collective pot, take what their dealt and come up with a full house.
The opening up-tempo reading of “Mr. P.C.” gets things off to a galloping start with a unison theme statement before Vonski launches into a lengthy lyrical exposition on the familiar melody. Peterson vaults into the fray next close on his friend’s heels. His more overtly plangent and muscular tone is clearly discernible from Vonski’s bent, high-register athletics. He submits a scorching solo before the rhythm section gets in on the act with woolly turns from Pickens and Shy. “Four” and “Lover Man” are given significantly less space to evolve, but the results on both are just as engaging as those found on the lengthier numbers. “Lover Man” is invested with a modal preface that segues smoothly into the lusty exchanges of its later sections. The disc’s centerpiece, at least in terms of temporal size is the quartet’s mammoth rendition of “A Night In Tunisia” (is there a jazz standard covered more frequently?). The expansive length of the tune precludes some coherence and there are points where the cohesion between front-line and rhythm section falters a bit. But the marvelously inventive solos of both hornmen (Peterson first, followed closely by Vonski) make these minor imbroglios of little concern. A blistering take on “Lover” signals the session’s close with Vonski blowing a ferocious ‘inside/outside’ solo punctuated by upper register wails.
Over the years Vonski has taken a lot of heat for his resolute insistence on sticking to his signature, and some say outrageous, sound on saxophone. In the company of someone like Peterson who is capable of applying a prodding fire under his feet, Vonski resources a level of ingenuity that should silence many of these naysayers, if there are still any out there. Anyone with a sweet tooth for zestfully deployed tenor prowess needs to check this disc out at his or her earliest opportunity. If the material here whets your appetite and leaves you wanting more word on the street is that a date featuring Vonski with Frank Catalano, another solid tenor presence on the Delmark roster, is currently in the works.
Mr. P.C./ Four/ Loverman/ A Night In Tunisia/ Lover.
Von Freeman- tenor saxophone; Ed Petersen- tenor saxophone; Willie Pickens- piano; Brian Sandstrom- bass; Robert Shy- drums.