Alto saxophonist Dmitry Baevsky’s aptly titled new album is a delectable tribute to nine great composers. The Russian émigré tackles tunes written by a roughly even mix of familiar giants (Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver, Ornette Coleman, Duke Ellington) and less-heralded heroes (Cedar Walton, Duke Pearson, Tadd Dameron, Gigi Gryce), with an overall emphasis on exploring overlooked masterpieces.
Backing Baevsky on all nine tracks is the crack rhythm section of pianist David Hazeltine, bassist John Webber and drummer Jason Brown. Hazeltine was playing with Baevsky for the first time on this recording date, but the quartet exudes an easy familiarity that suggests a longtime working unit. Guitarist Peter Bernstein joins the fun on three tracks, Baevsky commenting in the album notes on his fondness for having alto and guitar play a melody together, as he and Bernstein do on Pearson’s “Gaslight,” Silver’s “To Whom It May Concern” and Hancock’s “Three Wishes.”
Hazeltine shines throughout and gets the first solo on the album’s opening track, Walton’s peppy and Latin-accented “Ojos de Rojo.” Brown solos on “Three Wishes,” Webber on Coleman’s “Tears Inside,” but mostly they’re here to keep richly swinging time. Baevsky’s alto sax mastery is on full display. He dares to take on Ellington’s collaborative ballad with Coleman Hawkins, “Self Portrait (of the Bean),” and makes it an album highlight. His explorations of Shorter (“Mister Chairman”) and Coleman are pulled off with similar moxie and élan.
He’s at his fleetest here on Gryce’s “Smoke Signal,” but also whips his way through the bluesy complexity of Dameron’s “Swift as the Wind” with ease. Baevsky wrote nothing of his own for this album, but in honoring nine revered predecessors he demonstrates deep study, refined taste and prodigious talent.