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Sax Gordon: In the Wee Small Hours

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Tenorman Sax Gordon joins forces here with organist Alberto Marsico and drummer Alessandro Minetto to recreate the classic soul-jazz organ trio. The set list, as might be expected, is rich with standards and chestnuts, but neither Gordon nor his compatriots sound reverential. The grooves are solid and unselfconscious, and the soloing, while breaking no new ground, evinces a bracing mix of playfulness and seriousness of spirit.

Gordon has garnered a reputation as a formidable blues and R&B player, earning bandstand time with everyone from Duke Robillard and Roomful of Blues to Charles Brown and Solomon Burke, and it shows. Although there’s only one straight-ahead blues on offer (“Big Top Blues,” a hard-swinging original on which Gordon effortlessly inhabits both halves of a cutting contest), the genre’s characteristic blend of life-affirming joy and world-toughened melancholy permeates everything here. On ballads like “Easy Living” and the title tune, Gordon’s resonant and supple tone softens into a croon, deep-probing and seasoned by a wide but firmly controlled vibrato. On more uptempo fare-again, true to the bluesy spirit that pervades-he exudes a wide-eyed joy that sounds all the more effective for being hard-won. Organist Marsico likewise melds youthful ebullience with wizened meditativeness; a special note should be made of his bass-pedal footwork, which is so dexterous that he sometimes sounds like an acoustic string bassist. Minetto, on both sticks and brushes, keeps things simmering at a low, swinging boil throughout.

Although projects like this can easily descend into pseudo-hepcat posing or moldy-fig nostalgia, Gordon and his compatriots here conduct themselves with a delightful and righteous blend of panache and sincerity.

Originally Published