Like so much, it began with Bird. He wanted to record with strings. First, Neal Hefti's "Repetition" in 1949. Then those wonderful "Bird with Strings" albums of standards. …
Like so much, it began with Bird. He wanted to record with strings. First, Neal Hefti's "Repetition" in 1949. Then those wonderful "Bird with Strings" albums of standards. These led to a stream of "strings" albums by jazz players. Clifford Brown, Chet Baker, Bobby Hackett with six "Music for Lovers Only" releases, Wild Bill Davidson, Roy Hargrove, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Harry Carney, James Moody, Paul Desmond and Scott Hamilton, to name but a few. Improvisation, that necessary element of jazz, was certainly present, but the emphasis was melodic. These albums may well have been the first exposure to jazz for many who had thought it wasn't their kind of music.
"Moonlight and Sax" by Cape Cod favorite Bruce Abbott with the North Star Jazz Ensemble follows this tradition. It's the group's sixth CD for this label. The quality of musicianship is exceptional. Abbott, a master of tenor, alto and soprano, proves that there is room for both creativity and romance. Pianist Ron Fournier, with his light touch and sense of swing, is an integral part of the mix while bassist Marty Ballou and Paul Mason on drums provide solid support. All four contributed charts or participated in production. Providing an underlying carpet of sound is Boston's busiest "classical" string quartet, the Woodvale. They certainly have a way with the American popular songbook.
The use of three arrangers and variety in tempo adds to the presentation of the wonderful tunes on this CD. "Stardust" includes a beautifully harmonized soli line using the string quartet with Abbott's alto doubling the lead. Soprano sax on "Moon River" is just right for Mancini. "Night and Day," "Our Love is Here to Stay"and "Fly Me To the Moon" all swing. The latter includes wonderful interaction between bass and strings. "Autumn Leaves" is a spicy mix of Latin and swing. The other tunes, taken at ballad tempo, include " Shadow of Your Smile", "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes", and the definitive WWII love song, "I'll Be Seeing You."
Smooth Jazz? Easy Listening? If there must be a category, North Star has it right, "Romantic Jazz." It's a CD to take to a desert island but only if you have companionship!