Tenor Uncertainty

A strong crop of releases from tenor saxophonists

David Murray Cuban Ensemble

Plays Nat King Cole en Español

(3D Family/Universal)

James Carter: Boundless virtuosity
Vincent Soyez
James Carter: Boundless virtuosity

At the height of the cocktail/bachelor pad mini-craze about 15 years ago, the pop critic Milo Miles sneered that something could be considered hip simply because it didn't used to be. Today's evidence of decay seems to be the flurry of doppelgänger tribute albums honoring even the most negligible of yesterday's releases. But this fanciful tip of the cap to the pair of Spanish-language LPs Cole recorded in Havana a split second before the revolution both proves Murray's ingenuity as an arranger and sends you back to the originals to hear if you misjudged them. A revisit proved initial impressions to be correct; singing in a foreign tongue robbed Cole's phrasing of its usual confidence. This isn't a problem for Murray's tenor sax and bass clarinet; he also smartly eliminates the Latinate MOR that Cole included as a sop to Anglo squares ("Vaya Con Dios" and the like) in favor of the gorgeous (and subsequently forgotten) originals the singer and his arranger Nelson Riddle commissioned from the era's foremost Cuban and Mexican composers. Daniel Melingo's two vocal turns are as guttural in delivery as Cole's were smooth, which only enhances this unlikely program's surprising originality.

David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali

Planetary Unknown

(Aum Fidelity)

Though not yet a match for Ware's '90s quartet with Matthew Shipp, this new unit boasts many of the same virtues—beginning with another pianist (Cooper-Moore) whose earth-gouging solos and akimbo comping throw Ware's headlong cosmic assaults into bold relief. Ware is blowing full-throttle on tenor again following his kidney transplant, and displaying increased facility (along with his usual rugged tenderness) on both of his ancillary horns, sopranino and stritch.

So much for the recognized challengers. Next time: up-and-comers, long shots, and a few out-of-towners.

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