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Ernie Krivda: Blues for Pekar

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I really wanted to like this album. The reason is that, while there are warehouses filled with jazz records dedicated to spouses, mistresses, fellow musicians and pets, Blues for Pekar is the only one I can think of dedicated to a jazz critic.

It turns out that its connections to critic (and American Splendor creator) Harvey Pekar are tenuous, but that isn’t the problem. Ernie Krivda is a tenor saxophone player with energy, speed, force and sincerity. There is therefore no pleasure in reporting that, at least on this album, he is also overbearing, heavy-handed, undisciplined and exhausting. Even ballads like “Darn That Dream” and “More Than You Know” get bludgeoned. The quavering quality in Krivda’s vibrato, especially annoying on the ballads, is a major reason for the overall unattractiveness of this session.

Krivda is from Cleveland. His rhythm section-pianist Claude Black, bassist Marion Hayden and drummer Renell Gonsalves-is from Detroit. Two guest trumpeters from Cleveland, Sean Jones and Dominick Farinacci, join on two numbers each. In his liner notes, Krivda proclaims his fealty to the jazz culture of the “Midwest circuit,” and also to the values of the late 1950s, which he believes was a golden age for jazz.

The sidemen are solid, and there is a brawniness to Krivda’s music, an absence of artifice that may indeed derive from his Midwest roots. His allegiance to tenor forebears like Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon is apparent. On his own “One for Willie,” he reminds you of Rollins in his relentlessness. But when a song is overwhelmed and drained by an improviser, it is exciting only when the onslaught contains interesting ideas. Krivda’s constructs are too often generic, repetitive and predictable. The Rollins he sounds like is Rollins on an off night.

Originally Published