By Any Other Name
Jerry Bergonzi has been in a groove in the studio, turning out a succession of first-rate albums for Savant that have solidified his status as one of America’s premier living tenor saxophonists. He still isn’t well known beyond the East Coast, where his duties at New England Conservatory keep him most of the year. But even if this collection of originals explicitly based on jazz classics fails to give him the commercial boost of higher-profile concept albums, it casts intriguing light on his post-Coltrane sensibility.
In addition to relying on staples such as “Giant Steps,” “I’ll Remember April” and “Bye Bye Blackbird,” By Any Other Name distinguishes itself from its predecessors through Bergonzi’s rewarding frontline pairing with trumpeter Phil Grenadier and the leader’s overdubbing himself on piano on all eight tracks. (On his 2010 album, Three for All, he overdubbed himself on soprano saxophone.) The horns impart a close-knit bop-school chemistry reminiscent of Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown, while Bergonzi’s keyboard comping adds color and texture without getting in the way of his tumbling phrases and closed-in intensity on tenor.
The inspiration Bergonzi the composer finds in the classic tunes is mirrored by the inspiration Bergonzi the saxophonist finds in the sounds of past tenor greats ranging from Joe Henderson (on the more soulful settings) to Stan Getz (on the liquid melodies). With the support of bassist Will Slater and Armenian drummer Karen Kocharyan (a tandem that has also backed another Boston tenor legend, George Garzone), Bergonzi and the boldly expressive Grenadier provide textbook improvising. “Sprung,” based on “Joy Spring,” is a particular delight, adding a hard-edged potency to the Clifford Brown favorite without losing its melodic appeal.