Afternoon in Paris (John Lewis)
Garden at Life Time (Tabackin)
Bb, Where It’s At (Tabackin)
Yesterdays (Jerome Kern)
Day Dream (Billy Strayhorn)
Sunset and the Mockingbird (Duke Ellington)
Three Little Words (Harry Ruby)
Lew Tabackin (tenor sax, flute)
Boris Kozlov (bass)
Mark Taylor (d)
Recorded New York, 2014 and 2015
Lew Tabackin is an unduly neglected musician, a tenor player in line of descent from Coleman Hawkins via Sonny Rollins (superb lineage in my eyes!) and a
very accomplished flautist who plays the instrument with a greater jazz ‘feel’ than many more famous flautists.
Tabackin’s name seems to be unfamiliar to many British jazz listeners (in part because he has recorded relatively little for major labels, and too much of
his work has been unavailable in recent years); but any suspicion that his low profile is all that he deserves should be put to rest by the opening minute
of this new CD. ‘Afternoon in Paris’ opens with almost a minute of unaccompanied tenor, of which I would happily have heard more – saying which is not to
denigrate the work of Kozlov and Taylor, either on this opening track or on the album as a whole. This is a trio which has worked together for some years,
as is clear from their intuitive sense of ensemble, all the music having a great feeling of spontaneity. After the opening of ‘Afternoon in Paris’ its
remaining eight and a half minutes are similarly superb, with Tabackin throwing off ideas with great imaginative fertility and playing with impressive
tonal variety. The momentum is unflagging, in part due to the excellent work of the Moscow-born Kozlov, who over the last twenty years has become a
musician much in demand on the New York jazz scene (he has recorded with, amongst many others, Terry Gibbs, Mingus Dynasty, Alex Sipiagin, David Kikoski,
Brian Lynch, Jack Walrath and Ronnie Cuber). His work in the rhythm section is exemplary and he takes a fine bowed solo on Billy Strayhorn’s ‘Day Dream’.
Nor is drummer Mark Taylor, born in London in 1962, any kind of slouch. A professional since the age of 16, he gigged with such figures as Ronnie Scott,
John Taylor and Tony Coe while working in London, before moving to New York in 1996 (partly at the urging of Tabackin and his pianist wife Toshiko
Akiyoshi). Since then he has worked with many jazz greats ranging (alphabetically and stylistically) from Pepper Adams and Betty Carter to Bud Shank and
Jimmy Witherspoon. His work here is consistently good, both powerful and subtle as needed. Some of his best work can be heard on ‘Garden at Life Time’, a
Tabackin composition which recalls both the Garden of Yoshinobu in Tokyo and the jazz club Life Time in the same part of the city. Tabackin’s work on flute
on this track is outstanding – swinging while incorporating Japanese echoes, without ever being a mere piece of exotica. Tabackin is one of the few jazz
flautist who (along with Eric Dolphy) who always compels and sustains my attention.
Throughout the CD there is a pleasing substance to Tabackin’s playing, in terms of emotion, structural sense and ideas. Nor is it is devoid of wit –
especially in his use of quotation and allusion. The theme from the Flintstones turns up, en passant, in ‘Caravan’, for example, and there are
clear references to Charlie Parker in ‘Sunset and the Mockingbird’ (a relatively rare piece of Ellingtonia from The Queen’s Suite) and to Sonny
Rollins in ‘Three Little Words’.
Having been listening of late to many of the young turks of the tenor (as recorded extensively on Criss Cross Jazz, for example) I have to say that for all
their technical fluency very few of them have anything approaching the humanity of Tabackin’s tenor voice, by turns fluent and grittily abrupt, fierce and
tender (notably on a lovely reading of his own ‘Minoru’).
All in all, a very fine album by a man who brings a wealth of experience (he is now in his seventies) – both musical and otherwise – to his work. The trio
of tenor (or flute), bass and drums is one that soon exposes the limitations of a saxophonist, or makes it easier to hear just how good (s)he is. The
second of these alternatives is very much the case here!