January/February 2001

Big Jay McNeely
Central Avenue Confidential
Atomic Theory

Big Jay has taken the rap from the jazz side of the fence over the years for his honking R&B tenor. This album, stocked with mellow ballad performances, swinging jump tunes and respectable jazz outings-as well as blues-should help reconcile some differences.

Working with organist Red Young, drummer Howard Greene and arranger, producer and guitarist Skip Heller, plus a guest or two here and there, the veteran saxophonist proves to be a warm, tasteful interpreter of a variety of material. Ballad readings, such as the title track and Johnny Mandel's "I Want to Live," are especially attractive. "Caravan" (with McNeely on soprano), Tiny Bradshaw's "Soft" and Uri Caine's "Jelly" exercise his jazz chops. Joey Baron's "Mighty Fine" blues kicks off the album with a perfect boogaloo-infected dance beat.

McNeely's style of saxophone might be called commercial and crowd-pleasing. But he has plenty of company in players such as Illinois Jacquet, Junior Walker, King Curtis, Boots Randolph and Sax Gordon (Beadle). And as this album proves, such musicians often have more dimensions than they're given credit for.

Originally published in January/February 2001

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