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Wayne Escoffery and Veneration : Hopes and Dreams

It’s not until the very last song, “The Face I Love,” that a consistent spark can be felt throughout an entire track on Hopes and Dreams. There’s a good reason for that too: That song is an outtake from Veneration, Escoffery’s exceptional live album recorded in 2006 at the New York club Smoke. Why that fire doesn’t transfer to the studio except on scattered moments is a mystery, as the basic team is the same: Escoffery on tenor saxophone, Joe Locke on vibes, Hans Glawischnig on bass and Lewis Nash on drums for most of the tracks. Johnathan Blake replaces Nash on three numbers and the entire album also features the usually exceptional but rather understated Tom Harrell on trumpet (he also contributes flugelhorn to three tracks).

There’s a sense that the players, not a slouch among them, are holding back here. There’s promise in the opener, Escoffery’s title track, most of it delivered via Locke’s late-tune marimba solo. But Escoffery waits several minutes to break loose from safe-and-smooth land, and when he takes over from the marimba it almost feels as if he’s interrupting. On the gently swinging “Chronic Blues,” a somewhat ignored Coltrane tune from 1957, Escoffery strays into signature Trane territory with his horn only sporadically, but when he does he spills out the record’s most incendiary riffs. Bill Barron’s minimalist “Dedication to Wanda” also takes some dares: Quasi-dissonant saxophone and trumpet double up around the ballad’s mournful core melody until Escoffery lays into his solo midway, his most heartfelt on an album that could have used more like it.

Originally Published