Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Gregory Tardy: With Songs of Joy

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.

Gregory Tardy is an A-list sideman, accomplished on many reed instruments. On his own With Songs of Joy, he plays tenor saxophone exclusively. It is, loosely, a concept album. In the liner notes Tardy says it grew out of a “discouraging season” in his life, when he was troubled by violence in the world and increasing racial strife in America. His response to discouragement was to counteract it through his art and his religious faith.

Most of Tardy’s originals (“Ancient of Days,” “The Ebenezer Stone”) contain specific Biblical references. The album opens and closes with hymns. Robert Lowry’s “I Need Thee Every Hour” is from 1872, but is tense with contemporary discord and the restless energy of Jaimeo Brown’s drums. Andrae Crouch’s “The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power” is 85 years newer but more consonant, Tardy proclaiming over Sean Conly’s dramatic bass throbs.

Tardy’s concept of affirmation has room for secular songs. Jimmy Van Heusen’s “Darn That Dream” and Harry Warren’s “At Last” were written right before and after 1940. Tardy’s interpretation of the former is the most existentialist version since Thelonious Monk’s. It wavers between despair and hope, flows into fascinating digressions and concludes in a fervent cadenza. The latter is a rather corny song but Tardy sobers it up and uses it to testify. “Song for Joshua” is quietly heartbreaking. Joshua was Tardy’s child, lost to miscarriage. The composer is Tardy’s young son Gabriel, who wrote it for the brother he will never know. It would be a lilting lullaby if not for its sadness.

Tardy is a special player whose solos are all different and all fierce with fresh ideas. The surprise of this session is Brown, whose proactive, eruptive drums are way up front in the mix. Tardy gives this album spiritual depth; Brown lights it on fire.

Originally Published