Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bennie Wallace's Coleman Hawkins tribute

Tenor saxophonist Bennie Wallace has a most intriguing career playing with blues and gospel artists as well as served as the musical director for several films including Blaze and Bull Durham. His own recordings have included sideman as diverse as Tommy Flanagan, Dr. John, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dave Holland, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, Oliver Lake and Ray Anderson. Viewed as among the most original saxophonists, he has had a deep reverence for classic saxophonists as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Lester Young and Don Byas. His latest Enja/JustinTime disc is a tribute to Coleman Hawkins, Disorder at the Border, that was recorded at a German concert in 2004, the year of the Hawkins Centenary. With a superb nine-piece big little band, they run through a program of songs associated with Hawkins in swinging arrangements that hint at Jazz at the Philharmonic and similar type gigs, but with wonderful arrangements by Anthony Wilson (except for Wallace on Honeysuckle Rose) that provide a bit of a more modern ambiance than the simple riffs of those swinging groups of years gone buy. Others present are Terell Stafford on trumpet, Ray Anderson on trombone, Jesse Davis and Brad Leali on alto saxophone, Adam Schroeder on baritone saxophone, Donald Vega on piano, Danton Boller on bass and Alvin Queen on drums. It opens with Hawkins’ title track, a blues-based number that Wallace gets right into. Stafford and Schroeder certainly get noticed with some hot playing on Bean & the Boys, the other Hawkins original. Wilson’s arrangement over Vega’s piano provides just the right setting for Wallace’s ballad playing which suggests a bit of Ben Webster with his heavy vibrato. Wallace’s arrangement of Honeysuckle Rose is inspired by Benny Carter's arrangement of the song with Vega’s thoughtful piano being to the fore before the horns dig in and the tempo kicks up a notch in a playful mode with Davis and Leali featured as they both take several choruses before they start trading off each other, before Schroeder takes the front stage and a gruff chorus by Anderson. On Body and Soul, the spare arrangement almost provides a feeling to the performance that Wallace is unaccompanied on his remarkable homage to Hawkins on what was perhaps his biggest hit. It is a entrancing performance. The rousing Joshua Fit The Battle Of Jericho, is the longest performance which takes this marvelous disc to a strong conclusion.

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