Saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi is not a household name in the jazz world but listening to his new Savant release, “Simply Put,” leads one to suspect that the fact he is based in Boston, where he teaches at the New England Conservatory, is the primary reason he is under the radar among the general jazz audience when folks talk about great saxophonists of today.
His peers, such as Bradford Marsalis, marvel at his playing. The liner booklet mentions Marsalis’ admiration of his the mastery and personal distillation of the tonal personalities of Shorter and Coltrane. He plays often around Boston and also tours Europe several times a year. He did spend a stint with “Two Generations of Brubeck,” which included Dave and his sons and later with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. His band on this recording (his 4th for Savant) consists of pianist Bruce Barth, bassist Dave Santoro and the Paris-based Italian drummer, Andrea Michelutti.
The selections include seven Bergonzi compositions and three very personal interpretations of standards. With the band evoking the classic Coltrane Quartet, Bergonzi displays his deep, fat tone on the opening “MB,” a tribute to his late friend, Michael Brecker, with the band swirling behind his strong playing. “Dancing in the Dark,” is a swinging interpretation of a song from an old Fred Astaire movie and illustrates his attention to the song and the underlying lyrics. “Casadiche,” is how his Italian-American parents used to pronounce the TV cowboy, Hopalong Cassidy, which moves back and forth (the notes talk about the Mingusian ambiance) from a plaintive ballad to an angular double-time refrain.
“Come Fly With Me,” is a lively romp through a song most associated with Frank Sinatra. “Crossing the Naeff” focuses on the interplay between Bergonzi and pianist Barth, while there is a tangoesque feeling imparted to his reharmonized rendition of “Out of Nowhere,” a favorite of jazz players since the bop era, while his unique minor blues “Transphybian,” sports a nice Tyner-esque solo from Barth. The concluding “Malaga,” named after the Andulusian Port City finds him navigating the soprano sax (displaying more of Shorter than Coltrane here) on an unusual 11/4 time signature.
After listening to “Simply Put,” one realizes that Jerry Bergonzi is a superior, passionate and thoughtful musician and composer. Leading a terrific band, he deserves a wider audience commensurate with the high level of his music.
This was originally reviewed for the December 2009 issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 322) and I have made some minor changes. Savant Records sent the review copy to Jazz & Blues Report who sent it to me.