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The Prescription: Lenny Pickett With UMO Jazz Orchestra

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Lenny Pickett puts a number of pleasing moments into The Prescription, his first solo record in almost 30 years. It’s the way he assembles them that’s not so pleasing. Pickett, best known as the featured saxophonist and musical director for the Saturday Night Live band, seems to distrust his own bite-sized but accessible production music: Arranging for Finland’s UMO Jazz Orchestra, he overloads his tunes (written for SNL and others) with odd meters, key changes and sharp left turns.

It jars-with no seeming cause besides over-ambition. “XV,” written for a TV show, has the basic sound of a soul-jazz slow jam (albeit one with big-band backgrounds), and would work nicely as such. It need not be saddled with three keys to jump among, or shifts from 3/4 time to 7/8 to 4/4. “XVII,” from the same show, goes even further: It turns a somewhat baffling 5/4 meter into a Philly soul groove-then, in apparent homage to John Cage, suddenly breaks for 18 seconds of silence. The trick frustrates rather than amuses, as does the abrupt change of musical subject to 12-tone-derived recitations (though they’re in key, thus defeating the entire purpose of playing 12-tone). Nor is there any reason for “UMO” to go from 4/4 to 7/4; it does nothing for the tune but does throw the listener off.

The album’s two best songs only throw into relief how weak the rest is. “A Sad State of Affairs,” a shambolic, drunken lope highlighted by Pickett’s clarinet slap-tonguing, was written not by the leader but arranger Rich Shemaria; Pickett’s “The Big Wiggle” is a swing-band barnburner that casts off the affectations and concentrates on feeling good. They prove that The Prescription could have been much better.

Originally Published