Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Wayne Escoffery - Vortex (Sunnyside, 2018)

A longtime veteran of trumpet great Tom Harrell's group, tenor and soprano saxophonist Wayne Escoffery is also an effective bandleader. On this album, he is joined by David Kikoski on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, Ralph Peterson, Jr. on drums with additional percussion from Kush Abadey and Jacquelene Acevedo. "Baku" has a bright and bouncy uptempo feeling with crisp playing from the rhythm section and strong, swinging tenor saxophone from the leader. The piano, bass and drums stretch out with a solid interlude before Escoffery returns with a spirited solo of his own with impeccable timing, driving the band into more progressive territory before dropping out for a fine bass solo. There is a taut rhythm that provides the scaffolding for "To the Ends of the Earth" with piano comping evocative of McCoy Tyner, and Escoffery branching out into a billowing tenor saxophone solo, that develops a strong tone and complex performance, arcing up into strong and serious blowing. The interlude for the rhythm section is handled in a brisk manner, keeping the forward momentum of the piece intact, with crashing piano chords and lightning fast notes. The saxophone returns adding to the intensity of the piece, keeping the mainstream accessibility while pushing forward with a powerful statement. Escoffery moves to soprano saxophone for the mysterious sounding "The Devil's Den" with extra percussion and thick bass setting the pace, creating a reflective openness for the group to build upon. The saxophone spirals through the rhythm, creating a thoughtful improvisation that makes the most of the setting, swirling and swaying through the insistent percussion. He drops out for a quieter piano, bass and drums interlude which moves gracefully, before re-entering with a gritty solo that takes the performance to another level, with active percussion and potent saxophone creating a dynamic atmosphere. "Acceptance" is another lengthy and well played track with powerful drumming and tenor saxophone framing tight piano and bass. This supplies a tight and simmering groove to the music, that allows it to stretch out at length while still retaining interest. There is a short but potent performance on "Judgement" with Escoffery really digging in on tenor saxophone in a Coltrane like mode, making a connection with his accompanists, and playing in a stark yet soulful manner. The title track "Vortex" is aptly named as it is a very fast and complex performance with lightning fast saxophone and agile drumming driving the music forward along with tightly wound bass and drums. Escoffery plays with fluid grace even at high speeds like this, punctuating the music with higher register screams and gutsy growls. Solo sections for piano and percussion are well handled, and the leader comes back with a vengeance to complete the tune. Vortex -

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