Wednesday, May 12, 2010

ROW: Zoot Sims - Warm Tenor (Pablo)

Age is an unavoidable agent of decline for many musicians. Not so with saxophonist Zoot Sims. Advancing years only added to his artistry, making what was already great even greater. His Pablo period arguably garners less notice than the earlier stages of his career as a member of Woody Herman’s Herd and pianoless Gerry Mulligan ensembles large and larger. But by my reckoning it’s every bit as good, if not better. This set and its predecessor, If I’m Lucky, are the picks of that stellar run, not to mention lasting paragons of tenor-plus-rhythm jazz of any era. And what a rhythm section it is with the Encyclopedia Brown of standards Jimmy Rowles occupying the piano stool. Bassist George Mraz forgoes the corpulent amplification that was standard issue on Pablo sets of Seventies, opting instead for an acoustic elasticity. Drummer Mousey Alexander personifies his sobriquet, inserting scuttling sprightly rhythms, mainly on brushes, and clinking away on the downbeat via a slightly squeaky hi-hat. Zoot is all velvet voicing and limber phrasings on an inspired clutch of Rowles-tailored tunes starting with a cigarettes-and-cognac rendering of “Dream Dancing”. Sims and Mraz take “Blues for Louise” sans the other sidemen, the bassist’s strutting line setting up a pliant pillar for the tenorist’s serpentine improvisations to wind around. Rowles and Alexander get congenial revenge on “Comes Love” virtually stealing the show through their shared rhythmic antics. It’s a clichéd encomium without question, but this session really, truly does belong in every jazz collection.

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