Steve Kaldestad with The Mike LeDonne Trio – Straight Up – Cellar Live CL120312, 45:00 ****:
(Steve Kaldestad – tenor saxophone; Mike LeDonne – piano; John Webber – acoustic bass; Joe Farnsworth – drums)
The list of those jazz musicians past and present who play(ed) the tenor saxophone is long and varied. Those who were true innovators, and others who were great or near great, is not so long but nevertheless impressive. Trying to make the cut into either category is a daunting task. Steve Kalestad, who has a nice firm tone and easy manner will not fall into either, but that does not mean this album entitled Straight Up is not enjoyable or entertaining.
Pianist Mike LeDonne was once described by Oscar Peterson as “one of the most promising and talented pianists of this era”. High praise indeed, but well deserved. His presence, along with Webber and Farnsworth, give an added luster to this session with his sympathetic support and exploratory solos. Fortunately the band decided to forego the usual temptation of using only original material for this session and came up with a varied set list from both popular and jazz composers.
The band opens with two tunes that fit into these categories starting with the Sammy Kahn/Julie Styne number “Beautiful Friendship” followed by Bobby Troup’s “Meaning Of The Blues”. The first starts off in a loping tempo with Kaldestad running through the melody then kicking in with a lengthy solo which shows he is an impressive improvisor. LeDonne then demonstrates his own solid credentials for several choruses before the band takes the tune out. Miles Davis included the Troup composition in his album Miles Ahead which gave the composition some cachet. Kaldestad and the band offer it in a bluesy frame which works well for all the principals.
The Charlie Parker composition “Barbados” is well suited to the band’s strengths as it is simply a jumping off point to highlight their expressive versatility. Duke Ellington’s “Warm Valley” is a showcase for Kaldestad’s tenor wherein he captures some lovely turns of phrase and LeDonne gives full measure with some polished playing. The closing track is a minor blues entitled “Blues Straight Up” an original number from Kaldestad. Supported by some rock solid drumming from Joe Farnsworth and Webber’s big toned bass, the band finds an earthiness and a swagger that is ear-catching.
This is a cooly persuasive album from a dependable tenor saxophonist.
TrackList: Beautiful Friendship; Meaning Of The Blues; Let It Go; Barbados; Warm Valley; Sweet Siggi; Ligia; Blues Straight Up