Because James Moody’s career coincides precisely with the history of modern jazz, where you came in on one is where you came in on the other. For this reviewer, it was the Jazz Workshop in San Francisco in 1964 on fake I.D., when Moody (and the pianist on 4A, Kenny Barron) played there with Dizzy Gillespie. For the liner-notes author here, Ira Gitler, it was 1946 and a Moody solo on a Gillespie recording of “Emanon.” Gitler’s long, rambling reminiscence is one of the charms of this album. The stylish graphics of the package and the high quality audio are further reasons to buy CDs instead of downloads.
Moody does not kick into ferocious double-time and play in weird keys as often as he used to. His tenor saxophone sound now has more burr and grain. But he still exercises such suave control over the shape of a solo that we trust him implicitly. As we have always done, we relax and let Moody’s creative, logical ideas roll over us.
The sidemen are money. Barron is a proactive accompanist who provides lots of personal information without intruding, and whose every solo is a concise, complete, elegant essay. Todd Coolman and Lewis Nash are unfailingly crisp. The repertoire is classical (“Secret Love,” “Without a Song,” “’Round Midnight”) but not predictable. “Stella by Starlight” is a bright bossa and “Bye Bye Blackbird” is re-imagined as a waltz.
As good as Coolman and Nash are, the best track is the only one without them. Barron first arrays the component parts of “East of the Sun” and then Moody sculpts them like a Renoir, wisely, with no wasted motion.