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Album Review

This live set by the unjustly underappreciated alto saxophonist Sonny Criss from Italy in 1974 is a case in point for his tremendous lyricism, original tone, and hard-swinging soulfulness. Fronting the Georges Arvanitas Trio, Criss ushers the company through a series of fine pop and jazz standards, including Bobby Hebb's "Sunny" (a tune that was a Criss signature), Gershwin's "Summertime," "Willow Weep for Me," "Lover Man," Jay McShann's "Hooti's Blues," and a stunning, driving read of the Latin-infused "Tin Tin Deo." Criss also contributes his lovely "Sonny's Blues," as it comes out of "Lover Man" and changes the deeply grooving slow pace with a moaning blues, Bobby Timmons-style. Criss, despite his often heartbreakingly beautiful melodicism, is a blues shouter in the old tradition, as informed by Charlie Parker's brand of bop. And while the critics are dead wrong when comparing him to Bird or Sonny Stitt, this set shows he could play a cutting session with either of them. But with a decent rhythm section, and this one is more than that, Criss could display his greatest gift, making the improvisation in any tune a song of its own. Fresh Sounds gets high marks for issuing one of the rare live Criss sides on CD — with two added unreleased tracks from the gig making it complete. The sound is a little thin in places, but the performance, including the over the top cover of "Summertime," more than compensates.


Born: 23 October 1927 in Memphis, TN

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s

Alto saxophonist William "Sonny" Criss was an anomaly of the jazz musicians who came up during the bebop era. Criss moved to Los Angeles from Memphis at the age of 15, and at 19 played in Howard McGhee's band with Charlie Parker and Teddy Edwards. As was the norm for every alto player, Parker exerted a huge influence on Criss' playing. His beefy, earthy tone can be heard on a number of Savoy sessions beginning the next year. Criss drifted, playing in jazz and R&B groups, including those led by Johnny...
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Live in Italy, Sonny Criss
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