Even though alto saxophonist Vincent Herring tours Europe a lot, it was in early 2014 in New York when I last saw him. He was accompanying the brilliant vocalist Paulette McWilliams. Ever since his stints with Nat Adderley (for six years) and Cedar Walton (for over 20 years), he has clearly found a sound of his own, despite the ongoing comparisons to Cannonball Adderley – there might be some hints here and there, and maybe it is exemplified on some of the changes of the Cole Porter title track of his new album, but I think he has soaked up so much from different masters (not necessarily saxophonists), that his tone and approach have now become totally his own.
This is not your average standards album as maybe the title would suggest. In fact, the Cole Porter song that gave the album its name is the only tune from the Great American Songbook. Pianist Mike LeDonne has some sparkling moments on this one. Vincent and his partner on trumpet, the equally compelling Jeremy Pelt, joyfully and exquisitely open the proceedings with the Gary Fisher composition “Grind Hog’s Day” and keep on pushing for the limits on Vincent’s own “The Adventures Of Hyun Joo Lee”, written for one of his students. Here, the group’s sound is actually reminiscent of the great Cannonball-Nat quintet from the 60s (there are some great live recordings on Pablo from concerts in Paris, Stockholm, and Gothenburg from 1960).
Pianist Mike LeDonne contributes “Walton”, another bop-influenced groove cut with superb sax and trumpet interplay. And Vincent resurrects the Billy Reid hit song “The Gypsy”, written in the 40s. Dinah Shore had a number 2 hit with it in 1946. Charlie Parker also recorded it as well as Louis Armstrong and a lot more. I first came across the song on the “The Birth Of A Band!” LP by Quincy Jones. The 1959 recording featured a wonderful solo by Phil Woods on alto. But here, Vincent says in the notes that he learned it from a Sonny Stitt version (probably the one with the Oscar Peterson Trio from 1957). He retains the beauty of the track and greatly harmonizes on the story with abundant aplomb.
The versatile repertoire continues with Donald Byrd‘s “Fly Little Bird Fly” (originally recorded for the 1966 Blue Note LP “Mustang!” and later re-recorded for his “Harlem Blues” album in 1988 with Kenny Garrett on alto sax), another fiery affair with some neat solos by Jeremy and Mike and drummer Joe Farnsworth. And Cannonball Adderley‘s “Wabash” from the Cannonball and Coltrane record of 1959 is mastered here on a perfectly executed level. It’s a hell of a swinger with much potential. A Cedar Walton composition is also on the agenda: “Theme For Jobim” reflects Vincent’s love for the Brazilian maestro’s music (he recorded the beautiful “Jobim For Lovers” in 1999) with all of its intricate changes and harmonizations.
Tex Allen’s “There’s Something About You I Don’t Know” was recorded by Pamela Luss in 2006 with Vincent guesting on the album of the same name. Here, the passion and indulgence of the composition is further enhanced by the electric bass of Brandi Disterheft and some cute Rhodes playing by Mike. The song clocks in at just under 9 minutes, but the sensuality of the group’s achievement could last forever. I want more of that Rhodes!
Vincent, who celebrates his 51st birthday on Thursday, wittily dedicates his own “Smoking Paul’s Stash” to producer Paul Stache who founded New York’s Smoke jazz club where Vincent has been a regular from the very first days. You can catch Vincent with pianist Don Friedman at New York’s Kitano on December 5th.