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Charles McPherson: The Journey

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A mainstay of the jazz scene since the early 1960s, when he embarked on a 12-year stint playing with Charles Mingus, alto saxophonist and composer Charles McPherson burns the bop torch brightly on The Journey, his 24th album as leader. This collection of original compositions and standards serves up classic small-group jazz-hard swinging, melodically inventive and thoroughly satisfying in its unpretentious purity.

Throughout the recording, McPherson blows with a vitality and rhythmic litheness that belie his years (he turns 76 this July). He twirls through an agile solo on his arrangement of Charlie Parker’s “Au Privave” and swaps miniature bursts of harmonic sophistication with tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman on the title track, a McPherson original. The alto saxophonist also exudes romanticism on a pair of ballads, the Oxman composition “Elena,” with its arrestingly unexpected minor-key reversals, and a whiskey-scented rendition of the standard “I Should Care,” a duo showcase for McPherson and pianist Chip Stephens that evokes the best of Bird’s ballad readings.

McPherson’s musicians are well in tune with their leader’s straight-ahead sensibilities. Stephens’ chiming block chords power the rhythm and his own solo on his original composition “The Decathexis From Youth (For Cole).” Bassist Ken Walker’s groove is an unshakeable edifice, and his solo on McPherson’s “Manhattan Nocturne” has a gritty, muscular twang. Oxman’s burnished delicacy is a shrewd contrast to McPherson’s more assertive style, and when the latter, along with Stephens, lays out on the Oxman original “Tami’s Tune,” the tenor saxophonist commands the spotlight with a bright, bouncy flair, ably abetted by Walker and the sensitive, smartly judged interpolations of drummer Todd Reid. The Journey finds the legacy of McPherson’s postbop contemporaries in confident, powerful hands.

Originally Published