THERE'S nothing particularly surprising about the material found on saxophonist Joe Henderson's new album, "The State of the Tenor." Recorded live at the Village Vanguard in New York, Henderson's earthy sax offers up a pleasing mixture of ballads, blues, burners and swing. Thelonious Monk is represented by two tunes ("Friday the 13th" and "Ask Me Now") and the remaining compositions are divided among works by Duke Ellington, Sam Rivers, Ron Carter and Henderson himself.
What is surprising, at least to those listeners who've never had the chance to hear Henderson working with a pianoless trio featuring Carter on bass and Al Foster on drums, is how artfully Henderson reshapes these tunes so that they're full of both harmonic surprises and strikingly subtle improvisatory exchanges.
Besides boasting a commanding tone that's deeply rooted in the blues, Henderson displays an intriguing sense of space and phrasing, something that's especially evident on the Ellington and Monk tracks. And for sheer tenor gusto, as well as evidence of how Carter and Foster, two extremely sensitive musicians, can turn the heat on when it's required, give a listen to Henderson's own "Isotop," a fiery finale to one of the year's most compelling jazz albums.
JOE HENDERSON -- "The State of the Tenor" (Blue Note BT 85123); appearing Friday and Saturday at the One Step Down.