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Dick Oatts Quintet: South Paw

I dig Dick Oatts’ sound on alto saxophone, his articulation-lots of notes tongued, but different from Art Pepper’s use of this technique-and the harmonic and rhythmic challenges he sets up in his compositions and conquers in his performances. He’s an uncompromising jazz musician, one who possesses monster chops without trumpeting them.

Longtime lead alto man with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Oatts comes from the Paul Desmond-Lee Konitz school of saxophone playing. But a sweet sound and a cerebral approach to improvising comprise only part of his style. There’s also a trim muscularity in his tone and lines. And the lines can be quite angular and oblique at times. I don’t hear any other alto man playing with all these qualities these days.

Oatts’ companions on South Paw include trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, pianist Harold Danko (on three tracks only), bassist Dave Santoro and drummer James Oblon. The trumpeter has a mellow tone and a dancing, boppish rhythmic style. Danko, of course, is one of the great but underrated piano masters. Santoro and Oblon are blessed with ensemble awareness and good taste.

The group meets the challenges of pianoless playing quite well on “What’s New” (the only non-Oatts composition) and elsewhere. On “Barbarian” Oatts plays tenor and proves agile and focused on the larger instrument. You wouldn’t know it’s not his primary horn.

Originally Published