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Rick Fay: Words Among the Reeds

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A lifetime enthusiast and performer of classic and mainstream jazz, veteran reedman Rick Fay devoted his two most recent recording projects to themes long close to his heart-the first, a tribute to some of the jazzmen who meant the most to him throughout his formative years and lengthy subsequent career, and the next, a longtime dream to perform ballads with string accompaniment. For Words Among the Reeds, a follow-up to his Sax-O-Poem, Fay once again brings to bear his gifts as a wordsmith, fashioning poetic introductions to the 12 pieces and singing the lyrics to his intimately revealing “Who Am I?” and “Sheepface,” a loving tribute to New Orleans drummer Zutty Singleton, as well as Ellington’s “Come Sunday.” But as sincerely felt as they are, his verbal paeans must take a back seat to the unabashedly emotional playing of his horns-tenor, soprano, and clarinet. These are heard on “Lazy Mood” (for tenorman Eddie Miller), “Blue and Sentimental” (tenorman Herschel Evans), “Wild Man Blues” (cornetist Wild Bill Davison), “Don’t Explain” (Billie Holiday), and “Spotlite” (Coleman Hawkins). Also featured in the various tributes are flugelhornist Jackie Coon on “Singin’ the Blues” (for Bix Beiderbecke), trombonist and session arranger Dan Barrett on “A String of Pearls” (Bobby Hackett) and, as vocalist, guitarist Bob Leary on “In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening” (singer/lyricist Johnny Mercer) and “I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate” (cornetist Muggsy Spanier). The superb rhythm men are pianist Johnny Varro, bassist Bob Haggart, and drummer Jeff Hamilton.

In another concept entirely, With a Song in My Heart showcases the tonally empowered Fay on Hawkins-inspired tenor and Bechet/Wilber-tinged soprano with a 1950s-styled string section playing suitably spare back-up charts by pianist John Katalenic, who is joined in support and occasional solo by guitarist Leary, bassist Rick Shaw, and drummer Ed Metz, Jr. Fay also sings convincingly on “I’m Glad There Is You,” “Don’t Go to Strangers,” and “Whispering Blues,” as does his daughter Dianne-Romelle on “Someone to Watch Over Me,” but it is his full-bodied tenor playing that carries the heaviest weight on “So Rare,” “I Loves You, Porgy,” “Whispering Blues,” “My One and Only Love,” “Lester Leaps In” and “Early Autumn.” Almost equally effective is his warm, round soprano sound on “A Day in the Life of a Fool,” “Angel Eyes,” and his own “The Lovely Butterfly.”