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October 2006

Harold Danko Quintet
Oatts and Perry
SteepleChase

Oatts and Perry are Dick and Rich (alto and tenor saxophonists, respectively). Harold Danko played with them in the Thad Jones–Mel Lewis Orchestra and always wanted them in his own band. This album is a true sleeper, a blowing date on which the blowing is epic and the date is beautifully planned and recorded.

The rest of the ensemble is bassist Michael Formanek and drummer Jeff Hirschfield. There are two Thad Jones tunes (“Evol Deklaw Ni” and “Don’t Get Sassy”) as well as inspired choices in jazz standards (Horace Silver’s “Peace,” Sam Jones’ “Unit 7,” John Coltrane’s “Like Sonny,” Thelonious Monk’s “I Mean You”). The best might be “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” which reaches the rarest achievement of improvised music: Once played, its loose, incautious extemporization—reactive to the moment—sounds inevitable.

It is possible that, of all the world’s great little-known tenor players, the greatest is Rich Perry. It is impossible to choose among his solos. (Those on “Softly” and “Like Sonny” are awfully fine.) Each contains spare poetry that sustains the most subtly ambiguous, oblique relationship to its song. Oatts’ extroverted, profusely detailed alto is a perfect complement. Danko’s piano generates rivers of rich ideas, in themselves rewarding, always enhancing the other four voices, flowing in all around them.

Originally published in October 2006
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