Category: Album Review

A new album with Gary Smulyan and Ronnie Cuber!

It seems pretty undisputed that Gary Smulyan and Ronnie Cuber are two of the greatest living titans of the baritone saxophone. They each have a long discography and incredible career. And we are fortunate to have a new album out this week that features both of them. This isn’t the first time they’ve played together or even recorded together. The album ‘Three Baritone Band Plays Mulligan’ is listed on my 5 essential listening albums page and feature both Gary and Ronnie – as well as Nick Brignola. Interestingly that band toured a bit and the great Howard Johnson could also sometimes be seen with that band.

‘Tough Baritones’ was released this week on the Danish SteepleChase label, on which you will also find a number of other records from both Gary and Ronnie. Though I find it incredibly difficult to find any actual information about this label, or about the albums. Almost like the label goes out of its way to make sure very little information can be found even after the albums are released for sale. But regardless, the album is available on streaming platforms, or if you’re like me and enjoy a physical copy that can be found on amazon here.

This album to me is very reminiscent of a period of jazz that had a huge influence on both of the leaders here. The whole album, but especially the first couple tracks bring back the vibe of Leo Parker recordings, and some of the great two saxophone albums with the likes of Jug (Gene Ammons) and Stitt (Sonny Stitt). This is largely reflected in the tune choice and feel of those songs. A lot of singing blueses and almost boogaloo type feels, as well as some classic Cuber favorite standards – ‘Nica’s Dream’ and ‘Lover’. No sign of a ballad in sight, but that’s just as well since we’re all here for the fire anyways.

If I am going to be incredibly objective, I’d say that Ronnie’s playing doesn’t quite have the fire that he may have had in his prime, but he is by no means at all unenjoyable here. He plays with fire and still shows why he has been one of the leading influences on the baritone for decades. Also if we are going to compare him to most 78 year old saxophonists, he is probably nearly the best in the world. Gary’s playing is top notch and while connoisseurs of the baritone will easily tell their styles apart, they both approach the music with considerable force.

Recording quality wise, having been fortunate to sit right in front of both of their bells in person, it seems to me that the recording captured Gary’s sound a bit more accurately. Ronnie’s mix on the record feels a little distantly recorded. Otherwise the sound of the album is excellent, the two baritonists are panned separately left (Cuber) and right (Smulyan) to help differentiate further. They got a great rhythm section to back the front men. Gary Versace on piano, Jay Anderson on bass, and Jason Tiemann on drums.

I think anyone with an interest in jazz or baritone saxophone, (let alone those at this site that are likely interested in both) should probably head directly to their nearest music provider and check out this album from the royalty of jazz bari sax.

Andrew Gutauskas releases second album

Intrepid baritonist, Andrew Gutauskas has released his second album titled, “Look Out!“. This comes after his first album “Look Up!” from 2017. Perhaps in the future we’ll see “Look Within!” to finish out the trilogy? [ Feel free to use that Andrew 😉 ]

Gutauskas is a wonderful player and composer and the music on this album is very uplifting and positive, much like the leader himself. The line-up is a baritone, bass, and drums with trombone added on some tracks. A classic no-chord sound harking back to the Gerry Mulligan / Bob Brookmeyer quartets, though the songs and playing here will sound a bit more modern.

Check out the video below for a taste of the album. And of course I’d encourage you to head over to Andrew’s BandCamp page to buy a copy!

Frank Basile’s new release, out today

I have often stated my admiration for Frank Basile, for his playing, as well as his knowledge of the history and tradition of Jazz. He is my first choice when I am looking for advice or information about the history of the baritone saxophone. But he is not just a trove of knowledge, his playing is fantastic and he has fully absorbed a huge trove of jazz language and tradition. One of the last concerts I saw before the current pandemic forced closings was a group he co-led with Gary Smulyan – it was great. When I found out that Frank had a recording in the works with tenor saxophonist, Sam Dillon I knew it would be excellent. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Sam play for years and even sit in some big band sections with him. In a world full of tenor saxophonists, he is a monster that stands out.

So today, August 7th, 2020 Frank and Sam have released their album “Two Part Solution” on the Cellar Live label. I just got done ordering my copy and can’t wait for it to arrive. I’ve already heard most of the album and it is indeed great. The playing, the recording (recorded at the legendary Rudy Van Gelder’s in Englewood Cliffs, NJ), the arrangements, everything is good. The songs include some original compositions by both Frank and Sam. Though Jazz fans will also enjoy their take on the classic “Two Bass Hit”

I would really recommend getting a copy of this album, you can do so directly at Frank’s website (the best way to support artists!):
https://www.frankbasilemusic.com/product-page/two-part-solution-cd

Essential and Deeper Listening Lists

After much skull sweat, and deliberating I would like to unveil two new articles.

The first is a list of 5 Essential Baritone Saxophone Albums. This list is intended to be a sort of primer for those looking to dip their toes into the deep pool that is the history of the baritone saxophone. I’ve done my best to distill 5 albums that are probably the most influential for the baritone saxophone in jazz. Not necessarily the absolute pinnacle of artistry, but good starting places for future fans of the big horn.

The second article is one that veterans of this website will find more interesting. Its a ‘Deeper’ Dive into the baritone saxophone. These are albums and/or players you may not have heard of but may find very exciting. The list goes from slightly past the main stream to extreme niche, so there should be something new there for just about everyone. Since this type of list in inherently far more subjective I reached out to some very prominent baritone saxophonist of today to get their input as well. So you can see what each had to add.

Whether you’ve come to this site for an initial foray into the baritone saxophone or are looking to delve quite deep, I hope there’s something here new and exciting for you.

Andrew Hadro
Curator, JazzBariSax.com

In depth review and interview on Gary Smulyan’s latest album

The Jazz Profiles blog has posted a very in depth and interesting article on Gary Smulyan‘s latest album, “Alternative Contrafacts

The post is worth a read and the album is definitely worth a listen. I think this is one of Gary’s best albums, especially in trio format.

Head on over and read the article to learn more about contrafacts and Gary’s album.

Larry Dickson releases fourth and final album in series

I have covered Larry Dickson’s first, second, and third, installments in his 4 album project that mirrors the seasons. Today I am happy to say I’ve had a chance to enjoy the latest one from his quartet titled, “Winter Horizons”.

Similar to all of the other albums this album is very well done. The playing on the album is great, but what always stands out to me is Larry’s choice of songs and arrangements. There is an especially nice arrangement on Well, You Needn’t. On this disc there is a balanced and enjoyable mix of originals, standards, Thelonious Monk songs, and even a less-known but very enjoyable Billy Taylor original. 

The format is again a  chordless quartet. Being familiar with the baritone saxophone one might immediately think of the Mulligan/Chet Baker quartet. But this album uses alto saxophone instead of trumpet. This instrumentation might lead you to remember the “Two of a Mind” album that Mulligan did with Paul Desmond, but that’s not really the feeling here either. Rick Van Matre has a more modern slightly edged alto sax sound that contrasts nicely with Larry’s more mellow rich sound.

Bravo to Larry Dickson for another tasteful and enjoyable album.
For those looking to get a copy please contact Larry directly.

Eden Bareket releases 2nd album

NYC based baritone saxophonists, Eden Bareket has released his second album, again featuring his trio with bass and drums/percussion (read about the first album here.)

Eden has a very interesting approach to the baritone, and often shares the unusual methods for practicing. He is especially adept at using the upper altissimo range of the baritone, often playing alto or trumpet parts at pitch.

The new album is a very playful group of original songs. He has a robust sound, but a fairly gentle approach to playing. There’s no lack of variety on the album despite not including a chordal instrument. This time around Eden used some non-standard saxophone sounds (key clicks, overtone rolls) to create new sounds in a very listenable way.

I thoroughly enjoyed his first album, and have really enjoyed the second one so far as well. You can stream his album on Spotify, Apple Music, or purchase it directly from Fresh Sound Records.

Gary Smulyan has a new recording

Gary Smulyan

has many records out as a leader, and his latest one is another excellent addition. Gary is known lately for digging up rare songs and standards and recording them. This album is no different with a bunch of great tunes and even a Smulyan original! Gary’s sense of humor is excellent, evident in his title “Alternative Contrafacts” – A contrafact is an alternative melody to a known standard’s changes – for example “Hot House” is a melody that uses the chord changes from the standard “What Is This Thing Called Love?” Gary’s original is titled “I’ve Changed” a humorous play on the standard title “You’ve Changed”.

The band for the album is pared down to a trio setting, with just drums and bass. But with Gary’s harmonic knowledge and capabilities there is no lack of harmony on the tunes.

Personally I really like this album, Gary’s sound on it is almost a little darker than before, an interesting and enjoyable change. The whole album is great, and the obscure song selection is a very welcome change of pace.

To hear a sample and read more about the album, head on over to Gary’s website.

Lauren Sevian releases a new album

On Friday, May 18th, Lauren Sevian released her second album as a leader. It features an excellent band and looks to be full of original compositions from Lauren. The little we’ve heard so far is excellent. Lots of high intensity blowing, and plenty of straight ahead swinging that Lauren is quite adept at.

It is being released on the Posi-Tone label, and you can grab a copy here!