Gratitude: Stage Door LIVE@TheZ
Greg Abate (Whaling City Sound)
by Ken Dryden
The New York City Jazz Record
There are many players who are so recognized for their work on one instrument that the public is often unaware that they play several more. Greg Abate has been primarily heard on alto saxophone throughout his career, but for this live recording, his fourth both for Whaling City Sound and with pianist Tim Ray’s trio with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Mark Walker, he decided also to feature himself on tenor and baritone saxophones and flute. The time that the musicians have spent together as a unit shows in the solid performances throughout this live set, most of which focuses on Abate’s potent originals.
Things start with his engaging bossa nova “Gratitude”, each member showcased in turn. When the leader is playing bop tunes, the influence of jazz master Phil Woods is present; though he is by no means a clone, it is his execution and wealth of ideas that invite comparison to the late alto saxophonist, whom he admired greatly. The feeling is especially present in “Bop Lives” and his heartfelt tribute “Farewell Phil Woods”, the latter written as a ballad but performed here at a strolling tempo. The jazz waltz “Hazy Moon” is the first of two songs spotlighting Abate’s considerable chops on flute, darting lines incorporating Eric Dolphy-like detours in spots. His sole appearance on baritone is on his rapid-fire “In The Stratosphere” where his gritty sound recalls Pepper Adams.
Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “Serenade To A Cuckoo” featured the composer on flute on the original, but Abate opts for tenor to give it a gruffer texture. Fats Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” is a trio number and Ray’s Caribbean-flavored treatment in the introduction is a surprising, novel approach; this performance never loses steam in spite of stretching out over nine minutes. Back on tenor, Abate devours Joe Henderson’s hard-charging signature piece “Inner Urge”, tackling it at a brisk tempo. The excellent recording gives the listener a front-and-center seat for musicians having a ball on stage.
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O’s Notes: Greg Abate is mixing things up on Gratitude; a scintillating live set recorded at The Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford, MA, an intimate setting with one-take, spontaneous recordings. The program includes mostly original music, some new, some old and a few classic covers. There’s high style swinging on “Bop Lives” with a cool solo by bassist John Lockwood. Lockwood returns to the spotlight on “Jitterbug Waltz”, this time sharing the stage with pianist Tim Ray and drummer Mark Walker for great solos. Greg is literally “In the Stratosphere” leading the way with a blistering lead line on baritone sax. Abate plays alto, tenor and flute on this collection, a lively encounter!
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On his four recordings with the Tim Ray Trio, all on Whaling City Sound, Greg Abate finds himself on an endless quest for the true essence of jazz. Throughout this exploration, Abate, a massive talent, acquits himself as energetic, creative, and exhilarating
Which is why it’s such a treat to listen to his latest work with the Tim Ray Trio, Gratitude: Stage Door Live @ The Z. On stage, Abate is a force, a paragon of power and passion. Offstage, Abate is experienced, and a student of jazz. Live, he wrests control of the form, a force majeure, and proves that few in the jazz vernacular today can keep pace with him.
The album itself is a joy. With no formal rehearsals, and subsequently, no overdubs, mulligans, and re-do’s, the band captures its performance in truth, in full, and in the moment. With the seasoned support of Ray (piano), John Lockwood (bass) and Mark Walker (drums), Abate and his various horns (alto, tenor and baritone saxes, as well as flute) cruise through a slate of mainly originals, along with Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge” and Roland Kirk’s “Serenade to a Cuckoo,” done here on tenor sax rather than the customary flute. “Dracula” spotlights Abate, Ray, and Walker, in that order, in a concise span of five minutes. In all, the performances are loose and fun without being casual. These guys are, after all, some of the best on the scene.
The intimacy of the venue also helped propel the session. The Zeiterion Theater is a stellar place and allows the band to stretch out. Ray’s version of Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz” is a ten-minute blast, with rollicking passages interspersed with Lockwood and Walker each stepping into the spotlight.
Capturing the live energy is a difficult task, especially in jazz, where the frequencies are so varied. But the session, recorded and mixed by John Mailloux, is superb.
Abate is one of the hardest working men in jazz. Every year, when it seems like it might be time to slow it down, Abate revs it up, booking more shows, more clinics, and teaching more classes. He jet sets it when necessary, making repeated trips overseas to find his audiences. For now, he’s left us with the incendiary Gratitude: Stage Door Live @ The Z a postcard from the road, sent with the heat, beauty, and passion of genuine bebop.
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featuring John Lockwood – bass & Mark Walker – drums