Magic Dance: The Music of Kenny Barron
Greg Abate (Whaling City Sound)
by Scott Yanow
Saxophonist Greg Abate’s two-CD set Magic Dance is the best type of tribute. Not only is it a straightahead exploration of 14 of Kenny Barron’s compositions, but also it features Barron himself, playing in prime form. Barron, who turns 78 this year, has been a significant pianist and composer since the early ‘60s. His playing has grown in its individuality and power through the years and he has long been a skilled but underrated composer. While his “Voyage” has caught on as a standard, most of his other originals were long overdue to be explored again at length. Abate, a veteran saxophonist based in New England who is best known on alto, had previously recorded with Barron just one time, for his 1996 album Bop Lives. For the tribute, Abate, Barron, bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Johnathan Blake dig into many of the pianist’s finest songs, which often have accessible melodies along with complex and original chord changes. With the exception of “Voyage”, these are not the type of tunes that show up often at jam sessions. Abate, who is heard on five different instruments, overdubbed a second horn on five songs (mostly for the melody statements) and on “Innocence” and “Voyage” he is heard as a full five-part horn section. His playing is excellent throughout and his occasional soprano solos (most notably on “Innocence”) make the case for him being ranked as one of the top jazz players on that horn. Other highlights include the catchy “Sunshower”, picturesque “Cook’s Bay”, thoughtful “Rain”, an inventive and exciting arrangement of “Voyage” and every solo played by the ageless pianist. Magic Dance is one of the finest recent recordings by both Abate and Barron with the tribute not revisiting past triumphs but standing on its own as a superior modern jazz date.
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Gratitude: Stage Door LIVE@TheZ
Greg Abate (Whaling City Sound)
by Ken Dryden
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.