Scullers booker Fred Taylor called the “Baritone Madness” show at the club Thursday night “a real put-together.” Which means that the veteran impresario put the band together himself — after talking with saxophonist Greg Abate, who in turn talked to baritone specialist Gary Smulyan. Taylor then put out calls to saxophonist Allan Chase, pianist Tim Ray, bassist John Lockwood, and drummer Mark Walker. And, it so happened, Smulyan had a bunch of charts from the late great baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams (1930-1986).
What that meant for the audience at Scullers was about 90 minutes of hard-bop heaven. The band began WAY uptempo, with Adams’s “Muezzin’,” in fierce unison, Smulyan taking off into the bridge at warp speed. The tempo sometimes got the better of Abate’s reed on the first tune, which squeaked here and there as he plowed through the changes. Truth be told, everyone fared better during medium tempos and ballads, since detailed articulation was a bit blurred in the bass-heavy mix. So Duke Pearson’s “Chant,” a real beauty with a march-section bridge, gave the players — and their lines — a chance to breathe and flow. And Abate regained his composure as he floated atop bass only.
As the evening progressed, everyone’s solos began to find longer melodic lines. And there was a lovely moment on “Hellure” when Abate and Smulyan began riffing spontaneously behind Chase’s solo. Here and there, Abate switched off to alto (as in the astute sequencing of “Body and Soul” and “Chelsea Bridge”). But mostly this was a night for the big horn. That came through most gloriously in “Witches’ Pit” (Adams’s tune from John Coltrane’s 1957 Dakar), in which the saxophonists broke for an extended cadenza of three-way counterpoint. And it was a night for a superb book of tunes. Taylor — whose love of the baritone was born through his youthful friendship with the legendary Boston saxophonist Serge Chaloff (1923-1957) — says he hopes this was only the beginning for Baritone Madness. I hope he’s right.
, scullers, jazz