George Garzone is a musician’s musician, renowned as both a tenor saxophonist and an educator. But he remains relatively little known to the wider listening public. Perhaps his new album with two of his former Berklee students, much-celebrated bassist and vocalist Esperanza Spalding and her frequent keyboardist Leo Genovese, will help change that.
The emphasis here is on musicianship more than originality. Half of the eight tunes on Crescent are skillful interpretations of standards: Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Like Someone in Love,” Billy Eckstine’s “I Want to Talk About You” and Fred Lacey’s “Theme for Ernie”-each of which Garzone lodestar John Coltrane recorded on one late ’50s album or another, whether his own or as a sideman with Miles Davis. The title track itself is an emotive cover of one of Coltrane’s compositions, and demonstrates the freer leanings Garzone harnesses in his longstanding Boston-based trio the Fringe. But the other covers play up his and his bandmates’ considerable straight-ahead and balladic strengths.
Garzone contributes two compositions, one of which, “The Girl From Argentina,” gets a shorter second take aimed at radio play. The tune’s slow, pretty vibe is obviously inspired by “The Girl From Ipanema,” a hit for another Garzone tenor sax hero, Stan Getz; both versions of Garzone’s tune feature wordless vocals from Spalding and the Argentine pianist, and lush tenor and piano solos. Garzone’s “Hey Open Up,” the disc’s freshest, most modern piece, has a casually uptempo, postmodern swagger to it that calls to mind his friend and occasional collaborator Joe Lovano. Spalding’s unaccompanied solo, a walking line interrupted periodically by melodic asides, becomes a duet as Genovese joins her for his solo. The pair then comps for Garzone as he takes his rightful place in the spotlight.