Those who remember Ronnie Cuber’s blistering lines in the George Benson Quartet of the ’60s will be glad to know that the baritone sax ace is still very much on top of his game at age 70. Boplicity, a testament to his lifelong commitment to bebop, finds him assuming the mantle of such former baritone burners as Serge Chaloff, Cecil Payne and Leo Parker.
With seasoned pianist Michael Wolff comping with the finesse and taste of a Barry Harris, bassist Cameron Brown holding down the breakneck grooves with rock-solid lines and drummer Johnathan Blake offering an old-school sensibility that belies his young age, Cuber runs through a program of classic bop fare by pioneers Dizzy Gillespie (“Ow!,” “Groovin’ High,” “A Night in Tunisia”) and Charlie Parker (“Quasimodo,” “Cheryl,” “Now’s the Time,” “My Little Suede Shoes”).
And while Cuber’s ability to blow over the changes remains unquestioned, it’s his restrained approach and melodic penchant on the mellow title track and a Latin-tinged rendition of the ’30s chestnut “Out of Nowhere” that come as a welcome surprise. We all knew Cuber could wail with unparalleled authority, we just didn’t know he could sing so pretty on his big horn.