Joel Frahm readily admits that one of his strong suits as a player is both a blessing and a curse. “It’s my chameleon-like ability to play a lot of different styles,” says the gifted tenor saxophonist, whose latest for Palmetto, The Navigator, is an incremental leap from his 1999 debut as a leader, Sorry, No Decaf. “And instead of combating that impulse, I decided on this new record to put myself in a lot of different situations where I think my playing will shine.”
So on The Navigator there’s a free piece (his own edgy “Shards”), a classic ballad (his gorgeous reading of “My One and Only Love”), something in a ’Trane mode (“Fort Wayne”) and something more contemporary sounding (his lyrical ballad “Sister Julie”). Frahm also shines on four compositions by his prolific colleague, pianist David Berkman, and one by drummer and former employer Matt Wilson. Supporting him on this sophomore effort are pianist Berkman, bassist Scott Colley and drummer Billy Drummond.
Frahm, whose big tone is remarkably full and even from low to altissimo registers, points to John Coltrane and Stan Getz as major influences on his overall conception. “Those are the two guys who I have a real affinity for. Both of them are real fluent in that way of being able to play the whole range of the horn. But I would have to say that [one-time roommate] Chris Potter was also a big influence on me for that because he was one of the first young guys in my generation that not only utilized the altissimo register but did it in a way that was really bebop oriented in the sense that it wasn’t just used for a cry effect.”
Frahm also credits his stint in Wilson’s band with opening him up musically. “That’s where I started getting to the point where I could break free from the concept of just being a saxophonist and try to transcend the saxophonistic thing. That was a big hurdle for me in getting that connection closer between my improvising impulse and the technical boundaries of the horn.”
He has definitely arrived on The Navigator.