Jerry Bergonzi – Three for All – Savant SCD 2105, 48:47 ****:
(Jerry Bergonzi – tenor and soprano sax, piano, producer; Dave Santoro – bass; Andrea Michelutti – drums)
Boston saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi is a celebrated jazz artist in the Massachusetts region for good reason: he is one of the most consistently resourceful musicians in the area. It’s a shame he’s not as well known outside the home of the Red Sox and Bruins, although Dave Brubeck fans may recall Bergonzi’s frequent guest spots with the Brubeck quartet from 1979 to 1981 or Bergonzi’s sideman duties with Hal Galper, Eartha Kitt and numerous others.
Bergonzi has extensively issued albums as a solo artist since the early 1980s and his appropriately titled trio-plus project, Three for All (recorded in 2008 and initially released in 2010) is his fifth for the Savant label. The 48-minute outing displays Bergonzi’s talents as arranger, composer (he wrote all nine tracks) and producer as well as being a showcase for his influences, from Coltrane to Sonny Rollins and more.
On Three for All, Bergonzi is supported by bassist Dave Santoro (who records for the Double Time label and has worked with Bergonzi for decades) and drummer Andrea Michelutti, who has also performed alongside Bergonzi during the last ten years or so. The three musicians share an inspired empathy which is thoughtful, naturalistic and truly collective, and is heard right from the get-go on the opening, bop-oriented tune, “Crop Circles,” which has a supple but twisting arrangement. Bergonzi also implements another unique twist here as he overdubs his own soprano saxophone on top of his tenor, creating a seamless tapestry of notes to pronounced effect. In other hands this multi-track tactic would be gimmicky or self-serving, but Bergonzi fashions compelling spherical patterns for his two horns.
The ideas of transformation, hope and celebration simmer through several pieces. The slower-toned “End of the Mayan Calendar” – a period some people believe will be a time of spiritual enhancement – highlights Bergonzi’s fluent Coltrane-esque phrasing and persistently radiant improvisations. The open piece also affords plenty of room for Santoro to shine on bass, taking up the main theme while revealing his strong skills. The mid-tempo swinger “Obama” has a distinctly positive mannerism characterized by Bergonzi’s artfully nonchalant and nearly poker-faced approach as he works through a repeating melodic line: basically, he never loses his cool demeanor even as things heat up. The willfully evocative “Horus” refers to the multifaceted Egyptian god of protection (and other functions) and here the trio – augmented by Bergonzi’s low-key, overdubbed piano – crafts an arrangement sustained by an edgy, impassioned deportment, with just a hint or two of nervous energy. Another medium-paced feature is the obliquely named “Bluebonics,” where Bergonzi’s percussive piano underscores both his soprano and tenor saxophones, which together construct multi-harmonic layers.
Even when the trio sounds like a quintet or quartet, though, Bergonzi’s ceaselessly reliable tenor is ultimately at the forefront, providing a muscled vigor which is never overstated. Bergonzi understands strength does not have to be thrust outward to make its presence known. If sax fans have not yet discovered Bergonzi, Three for All is a suitable place to start.
1. Crop Circles
3. End of the Mayan Calendar
4. Between the Lines
5. Demolian Mode
8. Tectonic Plates
— Doug Simpson