In the liner notes for Back East, saxophonist (and sometime flutist) Jerry Vivino states early on that he’s “not Joe Lovano” and that “I know my limits.” What Vivino is saying is not that he can’t cut it, but that jazz is not his fulltime gig. Like his younger, guitar-playing brother Jimmy, Jerry has had a long career in the world of late-night TV bands (currently on Conan), a gig that’s necessitated him being versatile and on his toes even if he isn’t a candidate for virtuoso jazzman of the year. So, no, he isn’t Lovano, but don’t worry, he can play—very well. And that same honesty displayed in the liners permeates his music.
Back East—he’s from New Jersey—offers a healthy sampling of just what Vivino is capable of. Working with a small soul-jazz quartet featuring Brian Charette on Hammond C-3 organ, Bob DeVos on guitar and Andy Sanesi playing drums, Vivino blows strong on a dozen tunes from sources as varied as Stevie Wonder (“Isn’t She Lovely”), Ellington (“Just Squeeze Me”), Bob Dorough by way of Herbie Mann (“Comin’ Home Baby”) and Thad Jones (“Three and One”), rounding the program out with a handful of originals.
Of those, the opener, “What’s Happening Cat?,” is as good as anything else here: Wrapped around an unpretentious blues progression and taken at a leisurely pace, it’s a no-frills jam that allows each player plenty of blowing room. Charette, DeVos and Vivino share solo time more or less equally, the saxophonist’s lines both meaty and pithy, while Sanesi keeps things moving along at a clip, heavy on the cymbals. Of the covers, the Ray Noble chestnut “Cherokee” is a corker, Vivino’s flute work as nimble and taut as his sax playing is open and resolute.