Wayne Escoffery: Vortex (Sunnyside)

Review of emotional album by veteran saxophonist

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Cover of Wayne Escoffery album Vortex

The vortex of hate is a mighty gyre that only seems to be growing in force these days, and saxophonist Wayne Escoffery is all too aware of that fact. He was the target of racism from multiple angles while growing up, and he stands as witness to his young son’s experiences with the same forms of overt and covert bigotry today. It’s a sad state of affairs—an indictment against our society, really—that another generation should have to cope with such circumstances. But Escoffery soldiers on in parenthood and in music. His steadfast commitment to teaching his son about the realities of our time while leading him away from that darkness resonates in every note on this gripping album.

Leading a crack quartet, Escoffery’s horn proves to be the model of the strong, swift and lustrous tenor. He crests waves on the charged title track, taps into the flow and spirit of “The Serenity Prayer” for the odd-metered “Acceptance,” takes a peaceable turn with Tom Harrell’s formerly shelved “February” and puts a Coltrane-ish twist on “To the Ends of the Earth,” all the while bringing a fine balance of determination and poise to the fore. A pair of guests color the mix—trumpeter Jeremy Pelt on the comfortably moody “In His Eyes,” and percussionist Jacquelene Acevedo on a trio of tracks—and drummer Kush Abadey sits in twice on drums. But the date itself belongs to the core four. Escoffery, agile pianist David Kikoski and the tight and robust rhythm combo of bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Ralph Peterson deliver with passion and precision. This album is clearly laced with the profound sadness of its theme, but it’s also buoyed by notable resolve.

Preview, buy or download songs from the album Vortex by Wayne Escoffery on iTunes.

Watch a video interview with Wayne Escoffery from the Newport Jazz Festival.