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Nicole Glover: Strange Lands (Savant)

A review of the tenor saxophonist's major-label debut as a leader

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Nicole Glover: Strange Lands
The cover of Strange Lands by Nicole Glover

Tenor saxophonist Nicole Glover has been primed for this premiere showcase for a while now. From her self-released First Record in 2015 through last year’s Literature duets with longtime drummer Nic Cacioppo to her membership in the Dolphy-inspired quintet Out to Dinner, Glover has long played with the sophistication of someone fluent in the myriad languages of jazz. It’s fitting that her major-label debut as a leader is on Savant, with five songs featuring the piano-less trio (Cacioppo and bassist Daniel Duke) that’s been with her for three-plus years and four others adding master pianist George Cables to the group.

Right from the opening title track, the trio material is riveting, with Glover swooping like Chris Potter and darting like Sonny Stitt. Later, on “The Switch,” she shifts between fluttering modulations and smooth legato lines without sacrificing a smidgen of swing. Because a subtheme of the album is pandemic weirdness as sci-fi reality, she dials back the shredding to generate an aura of uncertainty on “The Twilight Zone” and a creepy groove on “Notturno,” the latter with Cables aboard. A cover of Jobim’s “Dindi” gives her the chance to work in some appealing vibrato, while compounding the melody with incisive asides in the manner of Sonny Rollins.

Although Cables is a sage who remarkably keeps getting better, his presence actually detracts from the glory of Glover’s coming-out party, in part because of her obvious reverence and occasional deference and in part because the rhythm section becomes too busy. The piano/sax duet on Strayhorn’s “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” is filled with beauty and empty of surprises. But all is redeemed on the quartet’s closing rendition of “I Concentrate on You,” as Glover’s plush tone, Cables’ perfectly placed chords, and the tight bass-and-drum pocket produce an intoxicating sense of contentment.

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