If anyone doubts the timelessness of classic jazz, one listen to saxophonist Don Aliquo and pianist Beegie Adair’s Too Marvelous for Words will convince them otherwise. “We were visualizing vintage, mid-Fifties, Be-Bop feel” states Beegie – and they fully captured it. Sometimes that intent can create a somewhat nostalgic feel, losing the immediacy that is at the core of all great jazz. In the hands of these two masters, quite the opposite occurred. The listener is instead transported into the mindset of that spectacular era, complete with all of the excitement, urgency, and joy of adventurous discovery that were its hallmarks.
A key reason for this is the remarkable empathy among all the musicians, creating the synergy that is so essential for jazz at its highest levels. The outstanding bass and drums tandem of Roger Spencer and Chris Brown respectively are the regular members of Beegie’s trio, contributing greatly to the sense of seamless cohesiveness and unity of purpose that fuels this entire album. While Don has performed often with the two of them over the years, he had performed far less frequently with Beegie before this date. But their profound connection is simply stunning, sounding as if they’ve been playing together regularly for years. Their interplay is so symbiotic that it often seems like they are dancing.
Playing mostly tenor, along with two pieces on alto, Don’s sound on both instruments is full-bodied and robust. His sensational phrasing is so articulate and emphatic that the stories he tells are vividly hewn, fascinating tales. His sound is steeped in the vernacular of the powerhouse saxophonists, but utterly singular and with a completely modern flair. Beegie, internationally loved and renowned, is a marvelous pianist, with an understated but dynamic style and a consummate sense of unfettered and always inventive swing, whether soloing or in ensemble support. Spencer’s deeply resonant sound and inspired playing gives the music a full, but always buoyant bottom. Combined with Brown’s sensitive, subtly vigorous but never overpowering sense of drive and swing, their impeccable time and taste locks every piece into a perfect groove.
The repertoire is sublime, combining wonderful items from the Great American Songbook with classic works from four of the jazz legacy’s greatest composers. That all but one of these compositions were originally written between 1937 and 1952 (the exception being Isfahan, one of the final Strayhorn/Ellington collaborations in 1966) is further testimony to the aforementioned timelessness of this music. Without losing sight of the era they were trying to capture, the exceptional arrangements make every piece modern, vital, refreshing, exhilarating and completely of the moment. The ten pieces include seven lively swingers, ranging from gentle to surging, and three lovely ballads.
There are three items from the unparalleled Billy Strayhorn – another collaboration with Duke; and his own Johnny Come Lately, which opens the album in a loping groove with a staggered approach that creates a somewhat Monk-ish feel. Isfahan is an almost-ballad in soft swing that grows bouncier as it moves along; and the exquisite Day Dream is built on Beegie’s lushly rich piano with Aliquo playing tenor, evoking the heart-wrenching beauty that Johnny Hodges always brought to this piece on alto.
Don brings his own passionate alto styling to Tadd Dameron’s beautiful If You Could See Me Now, an emotive and heartfelt rendition with a deep tinge of blue. Don also plays alto – with Beegie in a splendid Red Garland-ish swing mode – on the playful and joyously up-tempo This Can’t Be Love, one of two Rodgers & Hart songs included here. The other, a poignant and deeply moving version of It Never Entered My Mind showcases Don’s sumptuous tenor sax balladry.
Captivating rhythmic approaches are at play on the richly syncopated Fragos, Baker and Gasparre hit song I Hear a Rhapsody, and the Latin-flavored, ostinato driven All or Nothing at All (Arthur Altman) that features a tour-de-force tenor solo – powerfully visceral and daring, but never losing its rich lyricism. Beegie lays down a deeply grooved and funky bounce on Thelonious Monk’s Bye-Ya, and provides terrific interplay with Don’s fluid and punchy tenor work.
While Nashville is far more famous for another form of music, with jazz artists like these four on its scene, country music may have to move over a bit and make some room.
“What a delightful album! So refreshing to hear these master musicians perform this marvelous selection of great tunes and weave a purely magical spell as only they can. It is very reassuring to know that jazz is alive and well in this part of the country. These musicians are based in Nashville, Tennessee, a place known primarily as the country music capital of the world, yet the sophisticated and soulful sounds emerging from this group suggest that country music, as great as it is, is not the only type of music thriving in that environment.
Don Aliquo, a first rate saxophonist whose big sound and magnificent phrasing permeates this entire recording, is wonderful to hear throughout. And Beegie Adair is a world-class pianist with an exquisite touch who displays an unbridled sense of swing on each and every track to the delight of everyone who hears her. This coupled with the marvelous support of master bassist Roger Spencer and the “in the pocket” drumming of Chris Brown add up to a superb outing that will warrant repeated listening. The “real thing” for sure and my advice is not to miss this boat whether you are a seasoned jazz fan or just a person who likes to hear great music. Highly recommended.” -Mike Longo
1. Johnny Come Lately
2. This Can't Be Love
3. Day Dream
4. Bye -Ya
6. All or Nothing At All
7. I Hear A Rhapsody
8. If You Could See Me Now
9. Too Marvelous For Words
10. It Never Entered My Mind
10. It Never Entered My Mind