James Moody – 4B – IPO 1017, [8/24/10] 61:04 *****:
(James Moody – tenor saxophone; Kenny Barron – piano; Todd Coolman – bass; Lewis Nash – drums)
It goes without saying anyone who likes tenor saxophone is a James Moody fan. He is considered one of the first tenor men to play bebop extensively; was a longtime Dizzy Gillespie cohort; and has a broad, distinguished career.
This year Moody celebrated his 85th birthday and to help with the commemoration comes 4B, the second part or companion piece to 4A, released last year. 4B consists of selections recorded in 2008 during the same sessions for 4A: 4B is equal to 4A in every way, since this is a continuation, not a dilution.
Moody utilizes the same crew on a mixture of standards and tunes written by group members. And what a band: Moody on tenor sax, long-term associate Kenny Barron on piano, Todd Coolman (another Moody sideman whose credits also include Buddy DeFranco and Hal Galper) and renowned drummer Lewis Nash, who has performed on more than 200 studio outings and collaborated with Tommy Flanagan, the Marsalis clan and others.
There is familiarity and even a dash of nostalgia on the nine tracks. Listeners have probably heard many of the compositions more times than can be counted, but Moody’s warm sax lines and the quartet’s measured determination provide distinction, refinement and sincerity. A good example is the lengthiest cut, Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen’s beautiful ballad “Polka Dots & Moonbeams.” Moody’s expressive style showcases his emotive elegance, while Barron is the perfect accompanist and complements Moody with picturesque and sensitive chords. Barron’s solo near the halfway mark shows a distilled and discerning demeanor. The band’s softly Latinized and mid-tempo interpretation of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” is another amiable moment: Moody moves through chords with assurance and straightforward surety while Moody adds infectious, slightly wittier keyboard layers.
Coolman and Barron supply two memorable pieces. First is a revised version of Coolman’s “O.P. Update,” which Coolman recorded in 1990. It’s a first-rate tribute to bassist Oscar Pettiford, based on a Duke Ellington adaptation of “Perdido” that featured Pettiford on cello. There is no cello here, but this is one of the record’s great, swinging numbers with notable contributions from all hands: Barron offers his confident but subtle strength, Moody twirls and twists out persuasive sax riffs and Lewis shines with his whirling brushes and enthusiastically rhythmic playfulness. Barron’s ballad “Nikara’s Song” is another accolade, dedicated to his granddaughter, and also dates to the early 1990s. This translation has a minor-key temperament with affectionate interplay between Moody and Barron and a slowly rolling rhythmic foundation. Other highlights include a supple reading of Benny Golson’s “Along Came Betty” accentuated by a Coolman and Nash interchange; and a charming presentation of the Gerswhin’s “But Not for Me” that closes the program.
Producer Michael Patterson and engineer Jonathan Rosenberg furnish superb sound quality, balancing Coolman’s deep bass with the upper end of Moody’s higher tenor notes and Barron’s graceful keyboard touches alongside Nash’s most heated drumming.
1. Take the A Train
2. Hot House
3. Speak Low
4. Polka Dots & Moonbeams
5. I Love You
6. O.P. Update
7. Nikara’s Song
8. Along Came Betty
9. But Not For Me
— Doug Simpson