In some very refreshing ways, "Interpretations" marks a departure for saxophonist Ricky Ford. It's the first album (of the five he's recorded) in which he's written extensively for more than two horns. Greater emphasis is placed on harmonic depth and nuance, on song structure (familiar pop forms are often amended) and on collective improvisation.
But in other ways, "Interpretations" represents what Ford has always been about. On the sextet sides, his tenor is boldly assertive as it travels through chord progressions that recall John Coltrane and Clifford Brown. And the driven sound of hard bop, not coincidentally, is further inspired by two of Art Blakey's former charges: trumpeter Wallace Roney and alto saxophonist Robert Watson.
Elsewhere, on the polished and more fully realized quartet sides, Ford's tone is often luxuriant, warmly buffeted by pianist John Hicks, bassist Walter Booker and drummer Jimmy Cobb. The three discreetly support Ford's breathy, Ben Webster-ish balladry on Mercer Ellington's "Moon Mist." And on both the waltz "Lady A" and the buoyant "Bostonova" a gentle lyricism prevails. The contrasting approaches make for a very satisfying blend of material.
Granted, "Interpretations" isn't the adventurous, ground-breaking album many people have been hoping Ford will one day make, but it is a striking portrait of a young and gifted jazz musician on the move. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM RICKY FORD -- Interpretations (Muse MR 5275). THE SHOW RICKY FORD, Friday and Saturday at the One Step Down.