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Boots Randolph: A Whole New Ballgame

Did a young Bennie Wallace listen to Boots Randolph? A Nashville to Chattanooga connection, perhaps? Maybe not, but there are tonal shadings, attacks and phrasing throughout this album that recall Wallace, albeit not as exaggerated as the latter. This thought might cross one’s mind while listening to the late tenor saxophonist Randolph, who listed his influences as Hawkins, Webster, Lester Young, Parker and Don Byas.

From a hardcore jazz perspective, A Whole New Ballgame exhibits a few commercial trappings here and there, including keyboard strings and a country-club dance beat. But Randolph’s tenor playing was thoroughly in the jazz, and occasionally R&B, traditions. His scoops, melodic embellishments and masculine delivery alluded to Hawkins and Byas and his dynamics and tone colors alluded to Webster. He was a master of tempo (and phrasing appropriate to the chosen tempo), ranging from a slow and sexy “Candy” to a cooking “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” to an insinuating, Basie-like groove on Phil Wilson’s “Basically Blues.” On “L-O-V-E,” he builds to a shouting, R&B climax. Randolph ends the album with an unaccompanied, mellow-toned, one-chorus version of “Nature Boy.”

The rhythm section-guitarist Roddy Smith, pianist Steve Willets, electric bassist Tim Smith and drummer Ray Von Rotz, plus organist Mark Stallings and keyboard string player Jason Webb-emphasizes the smooth side of accompaniment. If only they’d roughed it up a bit.

Originally Published