Greg Abate with the Tim Ray Trio – Gratitude: Stage Door Live @ the Z – [TrackList follows] – Whaling City Sound [Dist. by Naxos] wcs114, 67:56, 71:59 [5/10/19] ****:
(Greg Abate – alto (tracks 1, 2, 5, 9), tenor (tracks 6, 10-11) and baritone (track 4) saxophones, flute (tracks 2, 8), co-producer; Tim Ray – piano; John Lockwood – acoustic bass; Mark Walker – drums)
If straight-on swinging and traditional jazz is your favorite cup of jazzy java, then saxophonist Greg Abate’s 72-minute, 11-track concert outing, Gratitude: Stage Door Live @ the Z, is just the thing for you. This CD is part of a continuing collection of projects—issued by Whaling City Sound—which Abate (his name, by the way, is pronounced uh-BAH-tay) has done with the Tim Ray Trio (Ray on piano; John Lockwood on acoustic bass; and Mark Walker on drums). The album is a delight to hear as the quartet runs through covers by Roland Kirk, Fats Waller and Joe Henderson and a spate of Abate originals, which all swing with groove, assurance and improvisational veracity. The set was taped at the Zeiterion Theater in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where the band was able to stretch out and explore many jazz tones, textures and sounds, with no pre-concert rehearsals and no subsequent overdubs to fix any flat notes, mistakes or other things which can mar a live performance. Abate may not be a first-name jazz artist for some but he has been a professional jazz musician since the mid-1970s after graduating from Berklee College of Music and has been a member of the Ray Charles Orchestra and the revived Artie Shaw Orchestra; has collaborated with Rufus Reid, Billy Hart and more; and has about 15 albums as a leader since 1991.
The record commences with five Abate compositions. Abate highlights his alto sax on the opening title track, a mid-tempo Latin jazz-seasoned selection which shows the group’s ability to seem loosened up but also tightly connected. It’s obvious on this nearly eight-minute tune these artists are comfortable with each other, no matter where the music might end up going. After the title cut, Abate displays his roots on his 1996 piece, “Bop Lives,” a showcase for Ray and Abate, who trade solos over the tune’s seven minutes. Abate switches to flute on the soft, seven-minute “Hazy Moon,” an agreeable alteration in pacing and coloration. While “Hazy Moon” lacks the energy of other cuts, it’s a pleasant experience and provides an opportunity for Abate and Ray to lock in and accentuate each other’s tonality. Ray’s intimate solo during “Hazy Moon” conjures Hank Jones and likeminded pianists. Abate’s “In the Stratosphere”—from 2008’s Birds of a Feather—returns to bop-inclined terrain, where he changes to baritone sax which furnishes an earthier ambiance, while Ray echoes Bud Powell when he improvises up and down his keyboard. The foursome ebbs again with the relaxing tribute, “Farewell Phil Woods,” which comes from Abate’s Road to Forever (Whaling City Sound, 2016). The late Woods—who died in 2015—and Abate were friends and regular musical associates: Woods was featured on The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods (Posi-Tone, 2012) and they often shared stages.
The album’s first half ends with Kirk’s “Serenade to a Cuckoo,” a 1964 piece later covered by progressive rock group Jethro Tull. Kirk’s original utilized flute, cuckoo clock sounds and a blues scale. Abate’s focuses on his soulful tenor sax and less of a blues approach. Lockwood supplies a resilient bass solo; Abate moves adroitly through the main melody; and Ray and Walker layer in satisfying rhythmic touches. The CD’s second half begins with a jumpy, skittery ten-minute take on Waller’s “Jitterbug Waltz,” a standard also done by Art Tatum, Erroll Garner, Chet Atkins, Vince Guaraldi and others. The lengthy translation offers plenty of space for extended solos and distinguished musical dialogue. The rest of the set list consists of three more which Abate penned, plus a final cover tune. Abate once more shifts to flute for the cheerful “Gemini,” which also has a Latin jazz hue. Abate’s adoration for monsters and nocturnal creatures is exhibited on his upbeat, post-bop burner, “Dracula,” from Monsters in the Night (Koko Jazz, 2006). “Dracula” includes a notable Walker solo drum spotlight where he evokes Buddy Rich’s spirit and élan. “For the Love of Life” is an affectionate ballad where Abate demonstrates his prowess on tenor sax; Ray contributes a gentle and warm improvisation; and Lockwood adds a woody and wonderful bass solo. The CD closes with Henderson’s frenetic and sharp-toned “Inner Urge,” the title track from Henderson’s 1966 Blue Note LP. Henderson has noted his composition reflected how he had to cope with the anger and frustration of living and hustling for gigs in New York City, and some of that intensity can be felt on this hectic—and shorter—revision of Henderson’s tune, with some nearly feverish drumming, sax playing and piano embellishments. Live jazz ventures can be a problem due to middling mixes or muddled acoustics. However, John Mailloux did a superb job of recording and mixing Gratitude. The auditory quality is brilliant, and the quartet’s liveliness comes across as well as all the musical nuances.
In the Stratosphere
Farewell Phil Woods
Serenade to a Cuckoo
For the Love of Life