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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Chuck Koton
Chuck Koton

Y'all need to check out Azar Lawrence...as bad a tenor player as there is...hes been back on the jazz scene for several years now, after a meteoric appearance as a 20 year old on McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones and Miles Davis recordings in the 70s. His most recent CD, "Mystic Journey" is an eye opener and he'll be at the Jazz Standard the middle of December to record live with Nicholas Payton, Tain Watts, Benito Gonzalez and Essiet Essiet...check him out!!!!!!!!!


Tenor Uncertainty, indeed! There is no such thing, for it is certain that the tenor is always the most certainly visceral and cerebral of all musical instruments, beginning with Mr. Lester Willis Young, a la Basie 1936. Prior to Prez, Mr. Coleman Hawkins held forth, but without Lester's complete, certain, creative cadences that led to the more advanced and sophisticatedly strident sounds of Mr. Charles Parker, and on to Mssrs. Theodore Sonny Rollins, and John William Coltrane. Listening to Mr. Lovano, one hears the rat-a-tat of notes shot from a Gatling gun. Edward Sonny Stitt, was far faster on the draw; he could swing, too, and his love for taking on all comers, either at the OK Corral or Birdland, posited him as the truly original gladiator of the tenor, shuffling from town to town, using local rhythm sections and leaving behind wasted wannabes to revisit their woodsheds. Mr. Carter, is, indeed a virtuoso encompassing the spirits of Prez, Bird, Newk, 'Trane, and a taste of Illinois Jacquet, and Red Prysock. Please be careful when placing Mr. Lovano on a pedestal above Mr. Carter. The latter is far higher on the tenor ladder, and the former is hardly among those on the rungs of greatness. That's for certain.

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