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January/February 2008

Bill Easley
Business Man’s Bounce
18th & Vine

Bill Easley is a bunch of great reed players. Although he restricts himself to the tenor saxophone (except for a clarinet solo on “Memphis Blues”), the journeyman musician can play any reed instrument and, as he demonstrates here, he can play them in a variety of voices and styles. It’s not surprising for a player of his background, which includes extensive sideman duties in a variety of genres (he’s played with Isaac Hayes, George Benson and Illinois Jacquet), and work in Broadway pit bands. That kind of career teaches a musician to approach music as a craft as much as an art, and by calling this album Business Man’s Bounce, Easley emphasizes the importance of getting across to an audience. That’s what he’s had to do; never able to rely on who he was to attract listeners, he has had to concentrate on what he played. He does that here from the outset, beginning with a version of “Straighten Up and Fly Right” that has more Fats Waller in it than Nat “King” Cole (at least in alliterative interjections such as “Fundamentally, you have a fondness for falsification”) and on which he adopts a honking sax tone reminiscent of King Curtis. That tone changes immediately to a swing-era smoothness on the original “Mentor,” which finds him in a tenor duet with Frank Wess.

And so it goes. Easley sounds like many different saxophonists playing in many different styles on successive tracks in what amounts to a history of acoustic jazz on the rest of Business Man’s Bounce. He laments that he is unable to represent all the “musical situations” in which he’s found himself in his career, but he comes close.

Originally published in January/February 2008
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