Hardly a novice as a leader or sideman, tenor saxophonist, occasional bass clarinetist, and composer Chet Doxas has rarely received his flowers. Viewed through the lens of lyrical early-’60s Wayne Shorter and Branford Marsalis at his most muscular, Doxas has got chops, buoyancy, and tone for days. In particular, his work with Carla Bley, his straight-ahead leader debut Sidewalk Etiquette, the improv-heavy Rich in Symbols, and his co-leadership of Dave Douglas’ Riverside quartet stick out.
Put a check next to You Can’t Take It with You as one more dynamic effort. For his first album fronting a trio, the saxophonist has drawn two aces in onetime Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson and bassist Thomas Morgan. Recorded in 2019, with production and album art (!) by Doxas, his ninth leader outing benefits from his proximity to Bley; the story goes that it was she and Steve Swallow who advised him to write “one song a month,” free of distraction, for one year. A song such as the slow, creepy “Lodestar (for Lester Young)” is as deceptively simple as it is tremblingly theatrical. Borrowing Pres’ single-note rhythm concept, Doxas hoots and toots incrementally upward on the scale, as Iverson tugs and strokes his piano’s innards until he shifts into something grand and sad at song’s close.
Iverson starts off “The Last Pier” with a similarly histrionic sadness to go with his usual complex classicist’s vision as Doxas meanders playfully through. Both “Soapbox” and “All the Roads” feel talkative, the former more rant-like and the latter more gentle, inspired by children’s-TV host Fred Rogers. With Morgan dancing happily below them, Iverson and Doxas make with the mean reds on the slow, quietly manic “Twelve Foot Blues.”
There are so many readymade games and Dada-like challenges found within You Can’t Take It with You that Doxas could be creative improvisational music’s Marcel Duchamp: He makes strange inside jokes that somehow manage to be universally funny.