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Walter Blanding: The Olive Tree

The Olive Tree is filled with confident, mature playing from a group whose frontline won widespread acclaim as youngsters. Tenor saxophonist Blanding and trumpet player Ryan Kisor first played together as members of a nationwide high school all-star quintet, but both have come a long way since then. Blanding subsequently joined Wynton Marsalis’ septet and Kisor later performed with the Mingus Big Band. At the time of this late 1999 recording, the two of them, as well as pianist Farid Barron and bassist Rodney Whitaker, worked with Marsalis’ Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. Drummer Rodney Green, who has worked with Greg Osby and Christian McBride, joins them here. They all function well together, both as an ensemble and as complementary soloists.

The group’s music carries on the mainstream modern tradition. Blanding’s tuneful compositions, along with a couple of popular standards and some classics by Fats Waller, Wayne Shorter and Monk, allow the soloists to show their devotion to the lyrical aspects of the music as well as to its visceral side. Accordingly, “The Nearness of You” and “Out of Nowhere” receive a respectful treatment not all that common these days. On the former especially, Blanding’s soft-edged tone and slightly laid-back approach to the beat support his fertile melodic imagination ideally. But the leader and his cohorts also make the most of their many opportunities to swing with gusto.

Originally Published