The ’60s appears to be the era that most influenced American tenor man Bob Rockwell, as evidenced by his titling this album after “The Joker,” a tune by Lee Morgan from his 1964 Blue Note album Search for the New Land. Rockwell, who has lived in Copenhagen since 1983, partakes of a variety of tenor stimuli from that decade: Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Hank Mobley and Eddie Harris. He and his Danish rhythm section—pianist Kasper Villaume, bassist Jesper Bodilsen and drummer Rasmus Kihlberg—make the album a “swingin’ affair” (to invoke another album title from the ’60s, this one by Gordon). Released on the Japanese label Marshmallow, The Joker was recorded at the Sugita Theatre in Yokohama in 2006.
Rockwell is a strong, forthright player with a well-grounded sense of rhythm. Villaume suggests Wynton Kelly here and there. You get the feeling that the rhythm section has Blue Note roots. This is not to imply that this session is a re-creation or a repertory band effort. Rather, it stands on its own considerable merits, with ever-present swing and creativity—and deep roots.
Rockwell opens with Gordon’s “Cheesecake” and follows with a bouncy “When I Grow Too Old to Dream.” On Harris’ “Mean Greens” he incorporates the composer’s tenor style, including lines constructed on fourths and a dialogue of high-low register leaps. Ben Webster’s “Bounce Blues” opens the door for Rockwell’s Webster-like vibrato, growls and phrasing. “Portrait of Jennie” brings out a Trane and Shorter orientation.