Duke Pearson was a major figure in the 1960s jazz scene, as a composer, arranger, pianist, bandleader and A & R man for Blue Note Records. He wrote tunes that have become standards ("Jeannine," "Cristo Redentor") and he helped to create the Blue Note signature sound of the period, the mix of hard bop and soul jazz remembered so fondly by fans of the time. It should be no surprise to see a tribute album, and Swingadelic has stepped up to do just that.
Swingadelic is currently an eleven-piece band led by Dave Post, holding down a regular gig at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey. This is their fifth album and their first for Zoho. In the past, they have concentrated on a combination of jump blues, Latin grooves and big band swing, but here they have certainly changed their sound, leaving some things behind for Pearson, but gaining a lot in the process. This album is by far their most sophisticated and conceptually satisfying, which combined with their label switch, should move them to the national level.
The whole album has a sixties vibe to it, partly reflecting the time when Pearson wrote the songs, but the band plays to the time as well, sticking to a hard bop/soul jazz style that stays close to home but feels just right. While Post does the arrangements on three of the ten tunes, Paul Carlon arranges four, and three other band members contribute one each. Seven of the tracks were penned by Pearson, the other three having been recorded by him.
The band performs splendidly, as one might expect since the members play together regularly, but they are remarkably tight too. Sooner or later, everybody gets to solo, especially Welber and Carlon on saxophones and Reiners on guitar. Unfortunately, the liner notes don't list which trumpeter or trombonist is fronting when, so it's difficult to assign accolades to them, but they all do a fine job. They mix tempos and moods. "Jeannine" is an uptempo hard bop workout that gives Jeff Hackworth, the baritone sax player and a trombonist room to stretch out, while "Cristo Redentor" is a slow blues burner that features trumpet and sax interplay that is just delightful.
Some tunes are better than others, and the "bunny hop" feel of "Duke's Mixture" could have been sidestepped. "Ready Rudy" seems dragged down a bit by the trombones. Overall though, the album is consistently well done and should be enjoyed by those who are fond of the bands led by Pearson and Donald Byrd, and the hard bop style of 1960s Blue Note recordings.