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Lucky Strikes by Bruce Bruce Swaim Quartet

Bruce Swaim is another jazz artist who would be better known if he lived and performed in New York. An accomplished tenor saxophonist who has lived in the Washington D.C. area since 1981, Swaim has been active in studio work as well as live performance with artists from both jazz and popular genres; he lists Danny Gatton, Keeter Betts, Carl Allen, Rosemary Clooney, Martha Reeves, Millie Jackson, The Spinners, Michael Feinstein, Ronnie Wells and Houston Person among his performance credits.

For his new recording Swaim focuses on his jazz credentials, working in a quartet setting that gives him room to stretch out and display his considerable technique and fertile imagination. On his website, Swaim lists his influences as "(in no particular order) Dexter Gordon, John Coltrane, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Stan Getz, Gene Ammons, Stanley Turrentine, King Curtis, Jr. Walker, Bobby Keys, Red Prysock, Lee Allen, Sil Austin, Hank Mobley, Johnny Griffin, Charlie Rouse and Lester Young." Wow! That's a pretty comprehensive list, although, ironically, my first impression of Swaim's tenor reminded me of another fine tenor player, the Englishman Tubby Hayes. That is high praise, but Swaim has all the fluency and rhythmic drive that constituted Hayes best work. More important, however, Swaim has put all these influences together in his own way and emerged with a personal voice. He is not one of the many Coltrane/Brecker clones to be found in New York, so he has probably done well to avoid spending too much time in the city. Neverthless, this is great playing by any standards.

To add to the attraction of this recording, Swaim has put together a carefully selected program filled with quality material by significant jazz composers. He has turned to Brazilian composer Ivan Lins (Velas), Cannonball Adderley (Spontaneous Combustion), Bud Powell (Hallucinations, and Chick Corea (Litha and Captain Marvel). These are fresh compositions that hold the attention and keep the soloists on their toes. We also hear from Jerome Kern, but one of his overlooked pieces, Up With the Lark, that makes an engaging jazz waltz. Adding to the variety, Blame It on My Youth is a gorgeous ballad that receives a sensitive reading from Swaim and Cooley.

Speaking of the pianist on the session, Jay Cooley is another stalwart of the Washington music scene. Both his robust soloing and his sensitive work behind Swaim demonstrate why. Langosch and Smith complete a rhythm section that both push and support the tenor saxophonist throughout.

The reality is that in today's market, this recording will have to compete with a flood of others, many served up with a measure of hype. There is no hype with this recording, just professionalism and creativity. Those who make an effort to seek it out will be richly rewarded.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Bruce Bruce Swaim Quartet
  • CD Title: Lucky Strikes
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: Bruce Swaim
  • Tracks: 1. Mine Not Yours, 2. Velas, 3. Hallucinations, 4. Blame It On My Youth, 5. Litha, 6. Blue, 7. Up With The Lark, 8. Spontaneous Combustion, 9. Captain Marvel
  • Musicians: Bruce Swaim, tenor saxophone; Jay Cooley, piano; Paul Langosch, bass; Dominic Smith, drums
  • Rating: Four Stars
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