A FAME reader recently gently suggested that I may be making a bit too much of the so-called 'revival of the saxophone' I've been touting for the last year or so. I understand the sentiment and sympathize with what generated the feeling but must confute it. Oddly enough, it was the corporate scam of punk rock that signaled rough seas for all music many years ago, especially for intelligent musics, and the outfall has been devastating despite the admittedly manic energy punk brought to things. Progrock took it in the rear, rock itself stepped 10 paces backwards, only now recovering in younger generations finally sorting it all out, and jazz was besieged and besmutted by 'smooth jazz' (actually bowdlerized 50s West Coast Cool and, out here in L.A., called 'Wave Jazz' after the mostly abominable The Wave radio station, 94.7), which turned the genius rebellion of jazz into mushy corporate pap backwash. I've been following things fairly closely and so haven't missed a whole lot, so when I hear voices like Joel Frahm's on this disc, the bridge between the 70s and the 00s is crossed, and thank the stars for that.
Frahm's the saxist in the Tom Dempsey / Tim Ferguson Quartet and for me the standout amid excellent competition. Dempsey's the guitarist in a beloved 50s/60s Wes/Grant/Pat/Herb vein while Ferguson's contrabass provides a rolling sea-tide of undulating rhythm as Eliot Zigmund, the drummer, lays down the most palpable baseline structures. The ensemble's seamlessly woven, but it's Frahm who pushes the envelope and in a highly melodic manner belying his engagingly non-threatening approach. Don't take me wrong, I love a saxist who can tear away that patina of urbanity often too pervasive in the genre, but a cat who can wed the picturesque with the deceptively inventive is someone not to be taken lightly.
Dempsey is likewise smooth and illustrative but just a bit too recessed and not quite as individuated within the set—or, I should say, not quite so much as Frahm is, but, Christ, do they work well together! I kinda hafta think Dempsey's as impressed with the saxist as I am and is ceding him ground, relegating himself more to a composite lead/accompanist role. It succeeds beautifully and is sound: the sax can never be a rhythm instrument except when subsumed within the winds/brass version of a backing vocal choir (Memphis Horns, etc.). The angular group-composed It's True readily proves this, but so do the rest of the cuts, from Randy Weston's opening Little Niles (great choice!) to Monk's closing Coming on the Hudson. I cannot cite a favorite groove 'cause I like 'em all, and this sure as hell is a very good way to kick off the jazz New Year. 2013 may very well be the period in which the mode finally stabilizes itself once more. I needn't elaborate the delicious promises that proffers.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2013, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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