Evoking the dark environs and the muted conversations of a late night bar, Live at Yoshi’s captures the best of “Trane”-inspired jazz. Steve Heckman, an unabashed fan of John Coltrane and his music, is an accomplished and tasteful saxophonist, excelling at both tenor and soprano, with a clear love of melodic exploration and creative improvisation. Not content to merely pile notes on top of each other, Heckman plays with the melodic ideas, taking them in new directions with facility and purpose, never losing sight of his goals and the music. When he takes his tenor sax down into its lower registers, he doesn’t merely produce notes, he creates silky, soulful caresses that you feel in your gut. On the other hand, Heckman can also soar through the upper registers with equal ease and self-confidence.
The other musicians in the group are well matched to Heckman and his musical tastes. Matt Clark is a sensitive pianist who knows when to provide support and when to step forward and shine. And shine he does on several solos, like the one in “Blame it on my Youth.” He is eminently listenable and engaging. Karen Horner, on bass, is a fluid and confident player. At times, Horner almost makes her bass sing, and at other times she provides a rock-solid driving foundation. Far from overplaying, Jemal Ramirez plays the drums with a perfect balance of taste and restraint, contributing just what is needed and never anything more. He is perfection.
Jazz is best heard and experienced live, and this recording is the next best thing to being there. The energy, spontaneity and obvious pleasure of the musicians are present in every note and every line, and are at times reinforced by the sincere applause of the appreciative audience. Whether being in a meditative mood or being ready to appreciate the masterful inventiveness and ingenuity of these accomplished musicians, Live at Yoshi’s is a recording that has found a permanent place on my shelf and in my heart. I can hardly wait for Steve Heckman’s next CD.