Ron Kearns is better known as a producer for such local artists as Buck Hill and Ronnie Wells than as a musician in his own right. But "Live at Blues Alley" (Foxhaven) gives the alto and tenor saxophonist his due, providing a cool, late-night atmosphere for seasoned and soulful tone. With the help of trumpeter Kenny Reed, Kearns sometimes projects a frontline sound that brings to mind the music of Cannonball and Nat Adderley, particularly on the riff-based Herbie Hancock tune "Driftin'." First, though, Kearns unveils "Blues in the Alley," the album's opening track and its only original composition, which establishes the album's unfussy and unhurried tone. He then offers a rendition of Luis Bonfa's "Black Orpheus," notable for its gliding legato phrasing before singer Shelly Dorsey infuses "That Old Devil Called Love" with a sultry air.
As for the remaining tunes, don't expect any surprises. The album is dominated by pop and jazz standards, including appealing performances of "Just Friends" and "Cantaloupe Island." Most of the arrangements tend to unfold in conventional fashion, leaving plenty of solo space for the horn men and the gospel-inflected runs favored by pianist Eric Byrd. Ably rounding out the rhythm section and neatly accenting the arrangements are bassist Bhagwan Khalsa and drummer Mike Smith.
Kearns performs tonight at Blues Alley.
(To hear a free Sound Bite from this album, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8152.)