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Don Braden: Gentle Storm

If tenor saxophonist Don Braden can be called a neo-traditionalist, it isn’t only because he is one of the recognized team members in the retro movement led by Wynton Marsalis since the 1980s (having replaced Branford Marsalis in Wynton’s band). Braden’s traditionalism is also apparent in his playing on this quartet date, which combines seven standards with three originals. His solos can be imaginative, but he has a tendency, when he’s about halfway through an improvisation, to find a way to work back to the basic melody of a song, just for a brief restatement, as if to remind listeners that it’s the composition that counts, not the soloist.

That tendency is consistent with the warmth with which he plays the melodies at the outset. There is an obvious affection for the music as written. When he plays “Secret Love,” it sounds like a rendition that could have been performed any time since the song was a hit in the ’50s. You can’t say that about “Never Can Say Goodbye,” the ’70s hit by the Jackson 5, but Braden wisely recognizes the swinging potential in a tune that sounded old and familiar even when it was new. He can be just as warm on an original ballad, as he is on the title tune, although he can in a few bars demonstrate his technical ability, delivering a flourish of notes up and down his horn that can leave the listener, if not the player, breathless.

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