Saxophones and saxophone players always have held a revered place in jazz music and the recent spate of reissued albums sometimes seems primarily a tribute to the art and artists of feat instrument. Any record company worth its repackage is releasing material by horn players, obscure and legendary, at a dizzying pace - John Coltrane alone has been covered by Blue Note, Pablo Live, Prestige and Savoy in less than a year, and all but the Savoy were more than one disc.
Several recent Savoy reissues of saxophone artisits deserve attention:
CHARLIE PARKER: "Bird at the Roost" (Savoy 1108). Jazz enthusiasts can't seem to get enough of Charlie parker (Warner Brothers Records has six more Parker records upcoming) and fans of the premier alto stylist and cofounder to bebop will not be disappointed with these live versions of tunes recorded in 1949 with sidemen like drummer Max Roach and vibist Milt Jackson. Even though seven of the 12 cuts have been issued before (on Savoy 12179 and/or 12186), the consolidation of those arrangements plus the addition of previously unreleased material makes for a balanced, impressive package.
Of the new material, the Dizzy Gillespie/Ken Stone piece "Groovin' High" gets brilliant phrasing from Bird while his own "Confirmation" and war horse "Salt Peanuts" are played with controlled frenzy and highlighted by brilliant double-time bursts from Parker and trumpeter Kenny Dorham. In fact, the entire album finds the ensemble in a jumping mood and the rhythms are so infectious that one finds fingers snapping and heads bobbing nearly nonstop throughout the record. All that and stage announcing by jazz deejay extraordinaire Symphony Sid Torin make for a nostalgic but fresh collection.
JOHN COLTRANE: "Dial Africa" (Savoy 110). Coltrane was already tracing his African musical roots in 1958, the year the sessions for this collection were recorded with trumpeter Wilbur Hardin. Despite the distinctly African flavor of the title cut and "Oomba" (on which Howard Williams and/or Tommy Flanagan lend harmonic saxophone support), this music is far more accessible than Coltrane's later "sheets of sound" experiments and the more recent African musings of Randy Weston, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman and other contemporary players.
"Dial Africa" features the full Coltrane tone backed by vaguely tribal percussion, but the music keeps up a melodic theme that never veers too far from the mainstream. "Anedac" is a basic swing piece most notable for Coltrane's sweeping runs and the solid rhythm foundation supplied by bassist Al Jackson and drummer Art Taylor. "Once in a While" is a full-bodied ballad with Trane shining during his lush solos and Hardin equal to the task of trading off subtle phrasings.
Only "B.J.-2" has appeared before (on Savoy 13004 and 13005) and the recording quality of the entire effort is top-notch.
"The Tenor Sax Album" (Savoy 220). This fascinating two-record set features five top horn practitioners (well-known and relatively unknown) at near peak form. Though the reproductive quality is thin in spots, this is a perfect anthology for anyone interested in a wide range of playing styles from the 1940s and '50s.
Two featured players are in jazz's Hall of Fame: Ben Webster leads on five cuts, while Coleman Hawkins commands the album's entire fourth side.
Webster, one of the foundations of Duke Ellington's best bands, shows why he was the most influential sax player of his day as he powerfully glides through interpretations of "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Body and Soul" (Coleman Hawkins' trademark piece) with mellow but incisive runs. Hawkins' rougher but sensitive style illuminates versions of "September Song" and the Gershwins' "They Can't Take That Away From Me" as well as five other tracks.
But the real finds are efforts by three unheralded byt superbly talented tenors: ILlinois Jacquet, Ike Quebec and John Hardee.
Jacquet, a mentor of the young Dexter Gordon, exhibits his traditional but varied playing throughout side three, mellowing out on "Don't Blame Me" while popping on "Jumpin' Jacquet" and "Minor Romp." The late Ike Quebec alternates between a quick, almost subliminal vibrato ("Girl of My Dreams") and a raspy but pleasant stomp ("Jim Dawgs") throughout his four pieces, recorded while he was a member of Cab Calloway's band. John Hardee, probably the least known of the five players (and not to be confused with alto saxophonist John Handy who had a major hit last year with "Hard Work") gets six chances to show his stuff.
Playing perfectly controlled scales, Hardee cooks on a playful "Baby Watch That Stuff" (which includes his amateurish but seductive vocal) and a rollicking "Take the A Train." Associated with Tiny Grimes and Helen Humes during the mid-1940s, Hardee amy be the next saxophonist to be rediscovered - and deservedly reissued.