No, tenor saxophonist Willie Akins is not the latest young lion to burst prematurely onto the scene with his own CD. Akins has been a professional for quite some time now and his recording debut as a leader is long overdue. After a stint in New York in the '60s, Akins returned to St. Louis, where he has remained a stalwart of the local jazz scene. Joining him on his album is his top-flight working rhythm section: pianist Simon Rowe, bassist Willem von Hombracht and drummer Montez Coleman. Their credits include, collectively, among others, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Higgins and Nicholas Payton.
Akins' years of experience have given him a decidedly personal sound, recognizable after only a brief hearing. Smooth-edged and not the least bit strident, even in the lowest register, it hints of Hank Mobley and Joe Henderson. Although his ear and technique enable him to sail through the chord changes with ease-which he does from time to time-he also knows how to mine a ballad for its emotional content. Indeed, his program, a mix of originals, popular standards and compositions by Jimmy Heath, Horace Silver and Sam Rivers, is nicely balanced between up tunes and slow ones, and includes a blues and a Latin number.
An excellent collection of straightahead quartet jazz.