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Ari Ambrose: Introducing Ari Ambrose

In this impressive leader debut, tenor saxophonist Ari Ambrose steps to the fore as a fully formed stylist. First, there’s his rich, warm reedy sound that, while edgy, is never raucous. Then, there’s his ample technique and dramatic use of dynamics. At 26, the brash New Yorker is a master of his horn whose spontaneous, turn-on-a-dime forays have been heard most recently with the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. And while he can spin sheets-of-sound with the best of the Trane-tuned tenors, here, Ambrose’s touchstone is clearly Sonny Rollins. Listen, for example, to his nuanced playfulness with the gently Latinized “I Wish I Knew.” Ditto for the dusters left in the wake of his “Esorbma,” a gallop as delightfully mad as Alice’s dash through Wonderland.

Recalling Rollins’ Way Out West, Ambrose ventures forth with a chord-less trio anchored by the nonpareil Dennis Irwin (bass) and Billy Hart (drums). With its Swiss watch precision, the Irwin-Hart tandem is the pillar against which Ambrose can both push and pull. The result? A music alive and spontaneous in every detail. Along with Rollins, one also hears echoes of the magisterial Ben Webster. Ambrose, however, is very much his own man. As demonstrated in lines like “Far Away Blues” and “Olvidandos,” he’s also a writer of substance.

Originally Published