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Unknown by James Moody

It has been a pleasure this week to receive two recordings by jazz masters. For one by Phil Woods I wrote: "Once a performer has reached the level of jazz master . . . consistency becomes one of his/her highest virtues." The exact same thing applies to James Moody, in spades, as his new recording reveals.

Teamed with another jazz great in the person of pianist Kenny Barron, plus his regular bass player Todd Coolman (that's right) and Lewis Nash, one of the tastiest drummers in the business, Moody gives an object lesson in how to imbue even the most familiar material with the freshness and creativity that is the very essence of jazz.

Jazz recordings are afforded the most meager resources, these days, both of time and money. This one, and a follow up for later release, 4B, were done in two session on subsequent days. But Moody and his cohorts make a virtue out of necessity. With the help of producer Bill Sorin, whom critic Ira Gitler--writing in the album's notes--credits with " . . . the presence of mind to let Moody do what he wanted to do," the quartet, exhibiting the highest levels of musicianship and taste, put together a program chosen from the stack of tunes brought in by the leader. They quickly arrive at some simple arrangements that give them a new perspective, then execute them with a sense of discovery that belies the number of times they had played them before.

Marie Chapian is no jazz critic. She is actually a Christian writer--but she hits the nail on the head when she writes: "Originality is not doing something no one has ever done but doing what has been done countless times with new life, new breath." There could hardly be a better description of this session. It open with what Gitler describes as a "Blues March" treatment of Secret Love, followed by a fine reading of Barron's original Voyage, a tune that deserves to be heard more frequently, as is Benny Golson's Stablemates that appears a little later in the program. In between, the better known standards are given unexpected treatments, Without A Song a little quicker than the usual tempo, Stella with a bossa nova rhythm, East Of The Sun, often an up-tempo burner taken as a dreamy ballad by Moody and Barron in duet. The session ends with Bye Bye Blackbird taken in 3/4 time.

There is nothing gimmicky about any of this; Moody et. al. simply look at each tune from a slightly different angle. Then there is the playing, and these guys are in top form. Moody drives straight down the center of the mainstream, from time to time taking not so much a detour as a quick glance down more exotic, chromatic side streets. Barron has total command over the harmonic vocabulary of post-bop, making him a wonderful accompanist, especially on ballads, but which he places at the service of his straight-ahead swing on the up-tempo numbers. Coolman and Nash do exactly what accompanists are supposed to do: support, punctuate, remain unobtrusive until their moments in the spotlight.

This is a quality production from beginning to end. Apart from the performances themselves, the recording quality is excellent, and there are actual notes, by a major writer, printed so you can read them, that in itself a rarity these days. I have only one complaint--I would have appreciated hearing some of Moody's flute. Perhaps we are due an all-flute album from Mr. Moody. How about it IPO?

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: James Moody
  • CD Title: Unknown
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2009
  • Record Label: IPO Records
  • Tracks: 1. Secret Love 2. Voyage 3. Round Midnight 4. Without a Song 5. Stella By Starlight 6. East of the Sun 7. Stablemates 8. Bye Bye Blackbird'
  • Musicians: James Moody, tenor saxophone; Kenny Barron, piano; Todd Coolman, bass; Lewis Nash, drums
  • Rating: Five Stars
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