Tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine aptly demonstrated why he's called "The Sugar Man" Thursday night at Blues Alley. Fronting a soulful sextet, Turrentine aimed straight for the heart on a handful of chestnuts with his customary mellifluous tone and economical phrasing.
By channeling the blues, Turrentine's dulcet notes steered clear of the saccharine. Guitarist Eric Johnson, whose thick, rich chords echoed Wes Montgomery, helped foster the set's sultry swagger, especially on Billy Taylor's sunny "Easy Walking" and the sparkling "My Shining Hour." Pianist Dave Budway imbued his solos and accompaniments with equal spunk and sophistication. On the hypnotic "In a Sentimental Mood," his cascading notes provided a rapturous introduction to Turrentine's pithy reading of the melody.
However, the sextet wasn't afraid to rip through some comparatively headier material. On John Coltrane's immortal "Impressions," Turrentine's tenor grew more menacing as he incorporated soaring wails and moans, while drummer Lenny Robinson and bassist Paul Thompson spurred the song with quicksilver velocity. On "Terrible T.," the ensemble returned to greasy blues funk while also inserting inventive jabs at reggae.
Because of sound problems or the nature of the instrument, Steven Boyd's tiny keyboards were so overwhelmed by the rest of the ensemble that his presence seemed mostly unnecessary. Only on a few occasions did his instrument emerge from the thickets. And during those moments, the keyboards sounded like a poor substitute for a Hammond B-3 organ. But even with the additional keyboards, Turrentine's set shook the house in classic Blue Note soul-jazz fashion.