(Benny Golson – saxophone; Eddie Henderson – trumpet and flugelhorn; Steve Davis – trombone; Mike LeDonne – piano; Buster Williams – bass; Carl Allen- drums; Al Jarreau – vocals on track 2)
On the occasion of his 80th birthday, Benny Golson has reconvened his famed six-piece jazztet and released New Time, New ‘Tet, which proves one undeniable fact: Golson remains an impressive and inspiring master of mainstream modern jazz. Although Golson has been rightfully celebrated for his authoritative tenor saxophone, he will also be remembered as a composer and band leader. He’s been performing for approximately half a century and written many standards during that time, such as “Killer Joe,” “Stablemates” and “Blues March,” and on New Time, New ‘Tet he revisits and reworks one of his most memorable pieces, “Whisper Not.”
Golson has collected together expert jazz expressionists for his new jazztet, who advance Golson’s aims and aspirations, and fluently uphold the hard and post-bop idioms. The new front line consists of heralded trumpeter and flugelhorn player Eddie Henderson, trombonist Steve Davis, and a superlative rhythm section: pianist Mike LeDonne, bassist Buster Williams and relative newcomer Carl Allen on drums. Although the musicians come from different generations, they unite as an exceptional jazz unit.
On the ten tracks, Golson continues his ongoing jazz dialogue that has broadened the foundation and base of his music, this time out re-examining the connections between jazz and classical in an approach that is unlike any third stream projects or related blueprints. But that is just one aspect of Golson’s musical personality.
The album kicks off with the Steve Davis composition “Grove’s Groove,” reminiscent of Golson’s stint with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. During the mid-tempo bop tune Golson and Henderson trade solo space, with Golson generously giving Henderson the lengthier improvisations, and later also allotting LeDonne some room to tickle the ivories on his Steinway piano.
The jazztet then covers Sonny Rollins’ classic “Airegin,” again striking a boppish pose that, from beginning to end, reaffirms why jazz lovers appreciate Golson and bestow his high ranking as a veteran practitioner of straight-ahead jazz. Another deft rendition is an invigorating version of Thelonious Monk’s much-loved “Epistrophy.” Golson’s expressive adaptation is astute and erudite. Williams and LeDonne join as one, while Henderson and Golson move through some sparkling solos. Throughout the track, the sextet slips in and out of the melody in an ear-catching fashion.
As mentioned, Golson also marries classical and jazz in intriguing ways, notably during the peacefully pastoral Chopin ballad “L’Adieu,” where Henderson’s muted trumpet echoes Miles Davis’ late fifties period, and “Verdi’s Voice,” a Baroque-styled jazz waltz. LeDonne, Williams, and Allen provide the subtle drive needed to keep the Old World tune swinging, while the layered horns are at once physical and spiritual.
Two imaginative surprises will entertain listeners. The first is the comically stimulated “Gypsy Jingle-Jangle,” an unfettered bop flyer with some Eastern European flavors. It’s a jovial enterprise Golson has surveyed in clubs for years and is the album’s most playful cut, inspired by the gypsy campfire scene in The Bride of Frankenstein, making the rambunctious arrangement possibly the first and only jazz document set in motion by a Boris Karloff movie! The other responsive realization is the comfortably ambling remake of “Whisper Not,” where Al Jarreau romps with his typical vocalizing and adds a charming second chorus.
The recording is handled with finesse. Steve Davis’ deep trombone tone is fittingly placed in the mix, augmenting the other horns. Eddie Henderson’s sweetened melodic performances are never lost, while his soulful trumpet flourishes have a light punch. Mike LeDonne’s keyboard solos carry a percussive quality that complements Carl Allen’s nicely punctuated percussion and brush work. Buster William’s bass, particularly when he uses his bow, are rendered with grace. And Golson’s saxophone is heard acutely well throughout, whether he’s blowing wildly or sliding down to a lower gear and engaging listeners with his eloquence, as he does on his slow and soft “From Dream to Dream.”
1. Grove’s Groove
3. From Dream to Dream
4. Whisper Not
7. Love Me in a Special Way
8. Gypsy Jingle-Jangle
9. Verdi’s Voice
10. Uptown Afterburn
— Doug Simpson