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Jeru Blue: A Tribute to Gerry Mulligan by The Kerry Strayer Septet

Sacre Jeru! Somebody has finally taken on the legacy of Gerry Mulligan the composer/arranger, not the saxophonist, as he was sometimes overlooked / under-appreciated as a craftsperson of finetunes. This is Midwesterner Kenny Strayer's first nationally released album, and seeing as the Mulligan & Desmond album "Two of a Mind" decided his destiny, he's using his Palmetto debut to good advantage (and not by merely riding on someone else's legend hood) to pay homage and highlight some under-heard / underrated melodies.

First off, there is no overt emulation or evocation of the classic (and, even today, unfairly maligned) Cool School of which Mulligan was one of the founders. This is not a trip back in time -- would-be neo-"cool" posers seek elsewhere. (No Chet Baker wannabes here.) This is a relaxed, mainstream session full of graceful, inspired playing. Strayer even uses the last rhythm section that Mulligan used just before his death in 1997. Most notably, Strayer does not strive to "sound like" Mulligan; his sound is very easygoing and breathy, almost Don Byas-like at times. Ted Nash's flute on the introspective-but-not-moody "Dragonfly" virtually defines elegance. "Oh, Mr. Sauter? Yes, Mr. Finegan?" is a nifty tip-of-the-hat to the fact that Mulligan established himself as a fine, thoughtful arranger in the big bands of the '40s (Gene Krupa, Sauter/Finegan) -- sort of a "scaled-down" orchestral sound, with cool-bop solos. "Night Lights (The Lonely Night)" is a ballad that, if it had lyrics, would have fit nicely on Sinatra's Wee Small Hours album. "North Atlantic Run" gets a south-of-the-border-tinged treatment, with Strayer on soprano here. Darn nice soprano, too -- he's his own man on the straight horn, nary a trace of Coltrane, Shorter or Lacy. The only non-Mulligan composition here is Strayer's bluesy, Horace Silver-meets-'50s-Benny Carter title tune, which somebody should use in a movie where there's a jazz club-scene -- you know, where Paul Newman (as Harper or some such) meets some hepcat for "information".

Everyone acquits himself superbly on Jeru Blue. No surprises, no pushing the envelope (though I kind of wish they had a bit), just a fine & mellow, genteel though by no means slavish salute to a past master whose tunes were overshadowed by That Baritone Sax Sound, that could more than hold his own with fellow masters Brubeck, Desmond and Ben Webster.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Kerry Strayer Septet
  • CD Title: Jeru Blue: A Tribute to Gerry Mulligan
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 1998
  • Record Label: Palmetto Records
  • Musicians: Kerry Strayer (baritone & soprano sax); Ted Nash (tenor sax, flute); Randy Brecker, trumpet, fluegelhorn); John Mosca (trombone); Ted Rosenthal (piano); Ron Vincent (drums); Dean Johnson (bass)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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