Ballads and Blues
Rodney Whitaker, Ron Blake, Wycliffe Gordon, Stefon Harris, Eric Reed & Carl Allen
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In this, his third release as a leader, Detroit-born bassist and member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra Rodney Whitaker sides with his Big Apple buds on a program of mainstream jazz standards and one pop tune. Tenor saxophonist Ron Blake plays lines everywhere between Coleman Hawkins and King Curtis, vibist Stephon Harris continues on the rise, pianist Eric Reed approaches monstrous levels, and drummer Carl Allen is solid as a rock. Trombonist Wycliffe Gordon joins on two of the nine selections. Whitaker takes charge on these cuts up front. A bass lead with Reed on "Whims of Chambers," a short unison line with Blake on "Ease It" before multiple solos (especially from the fantastic Reed), and the hot bossa-to-bop "The Hand of Love" all display his esteemed reverence for Paul Chambers. Whitaker's thick, syrupy, swing-laden sound, like Mr. P.C., is ever-present on his numerous solos and in his stance-aside-melody approach. "Whims" is particularly invigorating during the bridge, as playing from Whitaker and Reed seems to scamper, and Harris' vibes chase this; together with Blake, the four then incorporate a stair-step stop/start figure that sets the vibes on fire and puts the tenor sax in a soulful groove. Blake really sounds good on this date; Coleman Hawkins can be heard in his measured phrases during George Duvivier's excavated loping ballad "Alone With Just My Dreams," and on soprano sax, eschewing waves of love and happiness in "For Rockelle"'s steady, 120 beats-per-second fashion. Gordon's cameo roosts on the red hot "Big Foot" (informed by Harris on a patiently devoloped solo), and on the famous, easy, blues treatment of Harry Edison's classic "Centerpiece." Gordon plays trombone with the dexterity of J.J. Johnson on "Big Foot" and quotes "Chicago" on "Centerpiece." He seems in his element. With the musicians at their tenderest for Reed's "Wise Young Man," Harris is, again, the surrogate leader and delivers a cropped but substantial solo. Here is a jazz musician who doesn't need to play a flurry of notes to tell a story. On Carly Simon's "The Way They Always Said It Should Be," Whitaker's arco bass plays informant on a nicely rendered version of a soft rock tune. After the previous, more progressive jazz efforts, Whitaker has felt a need to play music "that doesn't have to be threatening or complex, some things that can help people relax." While not a collection of cool ballads and blues á la Chet Baker or George Shearing et al., as the title might suggest, the album is substantial, well-prepped, and nicely turned out. Recommended. ~ Michael G. Nastos, Rovi
Born: 1968 in Detroit, MI
Years Active: '90s, '00s