Though the word “virtuoso” is almost as overused as “genius” when applied to musicians, Bill Easley’s abilities on multiple saxophones and clarinets, in styles extending from swing and hard bop to R&B and pop, have proven that designation accurate. But on his sixth session as a leader, Easley opts for a more conventional, thematically conservative menu, a 13-track date of show tunes and romantic standards. He also limits himself to tenor sax, and is the key soloist in a group that includes pianist Tommy James, bassist Hassan Shakur, drummer Willie Martinez and percussionist Chembo Corniel.
Easley’s command and tone are impressive, his interpretations engaging. He’ll take chances on occasion, transforming “Where Do I Begin (Theme From Love Story)” into a more urgent, energetic romp. He’s appropriately tender on such numbers as “Falling in Love With Love” and “Hey There,” but provides soul and passion during his treatments of “Don’t You Know That I Care” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”
James proves a fine second soloist and accompanist, while Shakur’s bass is expertly recorded, bringing a deep, rich bottom presence to every arrangement. The decision to include a drummer and percussionist was also a smart one. The secondary textures that Corniel’s congas add to Martinez’s primary beats give Easley valuable additional support, and he operates nicely atop their foundations.