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The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor

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“Texas tenor” usually calls to mind propulsive swing, a brawny tone and a blues-drenched toughness leavened by tenderness on ballads. This reissue, including two previously unreleased selections, displays these characteristics in abundance. Befitting a veteran reedman who spent the better part of 10 years with the Basie band (he joined in 1939, replacing Herschel Evans), Buddy Tate tempers his muscularity with simplicity. Even at his most ebullient, he crafts phrases with the sparse eloquence of a William Carlos Williams poem: “so much depends upon” every note, timbral shift and subtlety, every tongue-stop and vibrato, that overplaying isn’t just unnecessary, it would rob the music of its essence.

Tate, who died in 2001, was 65 for this 1978 session, and he was still in his musical prime: deep-toned and hearty but suffused with grace and gentleness. Pianist Wray Downes, bassist Dave Young and drummer Pete Magadini likewise avoid overkill; when they trade fours with Tate, it sounds more like a lively conversation among running buddies than a macho face-off. Of special note is Tate’s clarinet playing. Reedy and full-bodied, it encapsulates the classic approach to jazz balladry, invoking deep emotion by cultivating it in the listener rather than bludgeoning him or her with it.

Some might object to the standards-laden set list. There’s little new that Tate can bring to chestnuts like “Georgia on My Mind,” “Lullaby of the Leaves” and “Alone Together.” But that’s part of the point: A true master can extract urgency from timeless beauty. In fact, “timeless” isn’t a bad descriptor here. Not only does time often seem to stand still in the constantly evolving present summoned by Tate and his bandmates, but distinctions between eras and generations also tend to dissolve.

Originally Published