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Buddy Defranco: Charlie Cat II

In 2006, Buddy DeFranco became a recipient of the coveted National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master award. The following year, just a few weeks before his 83rd birthday, DeFranco recorded a session in New York that sends a message to the National Endowment, as well as his fans, that he is not about to rest on his laurels. Like his tone and his ideas, this album is vibrant, youthful, often fearless. Surrounding himself with worshipful, yet challenging swingers-all at least a generation removed-clarinetist DeFranco is at the top of his game as part of an unusual front line: trumpeter Lou Soloff, guitarists Howard Alden and Joe Cohn, all propelled by pianist Derek Smith; bassist Rufus Reid; and drummer Ed Metz Jr.

The only retro track among the 10 is the title tune, an infectious shuffle blues, an unabashed jam session that allows everyone to stretch out. Ballads such as “All My Life,” “Ill Wind” and “Once More with Feeling” reveal the depth and beauty of DeFranco’s tone. As for his fluidity, something his fans must be curious about, not to worry: check the tag to Terry Gibbs’ “For Keeps,” the way-up bossa, “By Myself” (that Dietz-Schwartz classic comes alive with such a treatment), and, above all, “Anthropology,” taken at a speed that would waste clarinetists half DeFranco’s age.

Reid, who provides a steady foundation throughout the session, gets his moments to shine in “Once More” and a DeFranco original, “Walk This Way.” (Great arrangement, but uncredited.) Another part of that strong foundation, drummer Metz, cleverly trades fours with the front line on “What Is This Thing Called Love.” Smith shows how to comp and also how to engage the leader in a rhythm-free conversation on “What Is This Thing,” something Soloff does, on “By Myself.” It’s a constantly swinging CD.

Originally Published