Craig Handy's third Sirocco CD features some beautiful soprano-sax solos and intense, if frequently less exacting, tenor contributions. Handy's been an emerging star since leaving North Texas State in 1984. His early '90s releases on Arabesque were flawed but exciting, and he's getting more confident as a player with each date on Sirocco. His group includes an excellent drummer in Ali Jackson and capable bass and keyboard participants in Rodney Whitaker and Xavier Davis, respectively.
Handy mostly sticks to originals on Flow, but includes a good cover of the Herbie Hancock/Stevie Wonder tune "Chan's Song" as well as one dud, a formulaic run-through of Cole Porter's "Just One of Those Things." The band sounds so dreary here it seems this cut was included just to validate their traditionalist credentials. Those two tunes aside, the date's better songs, like "Flow-Dou," "Chan's Song" and "Yin-Yang," click mainly due to Handy's vibrant playing. On these, however, there's also the bonus of inspired ensemble response and Davis' flair for nimble riffs and answering lines.
Handy never wavers on tenor, but on soprano his tone and range rival that of James Carter. When the quartet stretches out, as on the nearly 13-minute "Yin-Yang," there's ample evidence that Handy's a sizeable talent, both as a bandleader and improviser. He doesn't depend on volume or speed for impact, and his playing isn't so careful that it lacks verve or fire. He qualifies as the session's top soloist, but both Davis and Jackson sparkle when they do get more time in the spotlight. When Handy's compositional skill begins to equal his playing, he'll be something special. Still, there's certainly more than enough solid numbers on Flow to sustain listener interest.