Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jerry Bergonzi – Three For All (Savant)

The second release by Jerry Bergonzi for Savant in 2009, this set features the saxophonist in circumstances somewhat uncommon to his discography. Absent a chordal instrument his tenor relies solely on the accompaniment of bassist Dave Santoro and drummer Andrea Michelutti. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate as Bergonzi also overdubs soprano and piano on certain tracks changing three to four or five. The decision widens the trio’s palette while effectively illustrating the leader’s facility on the other instruments. His twining thematic line on the opening “Crop Circles” exudes a fluidity of tone and phrasing oddly akin to an accordion and the thread count of his harmonic weave recalls the sort of cleanly meshing interplay Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz used to regularly sew together.

Writer Jimmy Katz lays a pitch on thick, depositing superlatives like “legendary”, “titan” and “innovator” in the liners and relating a choice anecdote where Michael Brecker deferred the title of “greatest saxophone player alive” to Bergonzi’s person as summation. I don’t hear much in the way of innovation in Bergonzi’s admittedly enviable chops, but the ascription of “musician’s musician” definitely seems apposite. He’s balanced active gigging with an admirably consistent role as an educator for going on three decades, with reportedly a two year wait lists the norm for potential students. Cusp-of-the-Sixties Stan Getz and Sonny Rollins are readily apparent as tenor influences, but there’s also a cry inherent to his articulation that recalls Charles Lloyd’s sound on ECM. Bergonzi long ago assimilated these into a sound identifiably his own.

Despite generous solo room for Santoro and Michelutti, it’s clearly Bergonzi’s show from the onset. Both sidemen are at times strangely laidback, filling their roles ably but opting not to goose or challenge their employer even when opportunities readily arise. That staunch adherence to protocol becomes a bit frustrating over the long haul with Bergonzi sailing through his improvisations independent from pursuit. On the win side are his compositions, often clever in title and construction, which accord his horn a good workout. “Obama” tips to political topicality and prescience with a lush and promising preface eventually broken by a spate of disruptive drum breaks. “End of the Mayan Calendar” concludes with abruptly with out of tempo coda intimating the advent of the possible apocalypse. Though there are no daring deviations or curveballs to speak of this is still an enjoyable set and clear-cut evidence as to why Bergonzi continues to curry such high esteem.

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