Friday, August 6, 2010

Old Faithful

I was alerted once again to the power of certain durable standards after unearthing an admittedly minor recording from 1989, "Art Deco" by Don Cherry. One of those projects that looks great on paper yet just doesn't come alive to any truly satisfying degree, "Art Deco" unites three members of Ornette Coleman's original quartet: trumpeter Cherry, drummer Billy Higgins and bassist Charlie Haden. They are joined by tenor saxophonist James Clay, a virile stylist with a spotty recording career -- 29 years separate his first session as a leader from his next. "Art Deco," with Cherry in noticeably restrained form, always struck me as an officially released rehearsal tape. There's a tentative feeling to the entire session; the participants only really spur each other on during the final track, "Compute." Even attributing leadership to Cherry, rather than the quartet at large, seems a bit spurious, as each of the foursome are given featured performances.
One of these features is the jewel. "Body and Soul" exists as a looming challenge to tenor saxophonists ever since Coleman Hawkins' historic 1939 hit recording-- You approach "Body and Soul" with serious intentions or you don't come to it at all.
Clay takes to it like catnip. Announcing his focus with a short introductory burst of force, he approaches the performance with clarity and poise in mind. His breathy tone and darting approach suggest vintage Rollins at times, but Clay remains his own man as he embraces a song whose crafty chord changes and memorable melodic design are a gift to a skillful player.He sounds more comfortable and individualistic on this nearly sixty year old evergreen, than he does anywhere else on "Art Deco." No surprise, "Body and Soul" can do that to you.

(Addendum time: As a pianist was left at home, Haden comes to the fore throughout, his own unaccompanied solo short and very sweet. And Clay's later feature, "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" certainly has its moments as well.)

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