Saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi’s credentials in the field of jazz education are well documented. His qualifications, however, are never more apparent than when he’s wielding his tenor with the kind of harmonic ingenuity and rhythmic assurance heard on this pianoless quartet session.
In the album’s liner notes, the veteran reedman points to guitarist John Abercrombie as a key factor in shaping the album’s nine performances, most of which are original pieces. Playing with Abercrombie, he says, “is not like playing with just any guitarist. You never know what sounds he’ll play, and you want to inspire him and be prepared to be inspired.”
That observation rings true time after time on Tenorist, whether the band is moving slowly and slyly through the minor blues “Gecko Plex,” with Bergonzi and Abercrombie weaving angular lines and intricate designs, or swinging freely though “Reference,” an evocative salute to Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh.
Stylistic references, it turns out, are often evident here. Benny Golson’s harmonic language looms large on “Table Steaks,” inspired by “Stablemates,” and there are fresh interpretations of Thelonious Monk’s “Pannonica” and Kenny Dorham’s “La Mesha.” The Monk piece shrewdly juxtaposes Bergonzi’s tart tone and Abercrombie’s muted lyricism, while the Dorham contribution finds both players in nimble sync with the shuffling swing pulse sustained by bassist Dave Santoro and drummer Adam Nussbaum. Frequent collaborators, the four musicians also sustain an air of spontaneity that carries from one track to another and helps produce the tension and surprises that Bergonzi set out to create.