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Jerry Bergonzi: The Seven Rays (Savant)

A review of the tenor saxophonist's "ambitious, often complex project"

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The Seven Rays by Jerry Bergonzi
The cover of The Seven Rays by Jerry Bergonzi

It’s useful, but not imperative, to read Scott Yanow’s liner notes in order to understand the concept behind The Seven Rays. They explain the titling of the first seven tracks after, as Bergonzi puts it, “particular ideas and types of people”: magnetism, harmony, knowledge, and so on. The liners go on to dissect what’s happening in each section, but the music will be no less satisfying should the listener hear it without benefit of explanation. Bergonzi, the tenor saxophonist who first came to attention via his work with Dave Brubeck in the 1970s and has since released more than 40 albums of his own, made certain that his grand statement would stand on its own.

The first “ray,” “Intention,” is one of the more aggressive. It serves largely as a showcase for Bergonzi’s own soloing—taking on a tougher tone than he generally puts forth—and that of trumpeter Phil Grenadier, until, toward the end, pianist Carl Winther takes his shot, maintaining the number’s assertiveness till it all finally melts away into nothingness.

The three soloists are more than ably supported throughout by bassist Johnny Aman and drummer Anders Morgensen, who takes his most impressive turn during “ray” No. 5, “Knowledge,” another breakneck dash that also features Winther’s most breathtaking (and breathless) contribution.

The eighth and final track, “Sun Worship Ritual,” is only related tangentially to the seven “rays,” but it’s ultimately one of the album’s highlights. Midway, Bergonzi dips deep into his lower register, prompting Grenadier to trail behind closely with meandering, breathy notes and Winther to find his place inside their conversation. It’s a sweet summation of an ambitious, often complex project.

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Jeff Tamarkin

Jeff Tamarkin on social media

Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.