Friday, October 17, 2014

Greg Abate Quartet - "Motif" - Released on Whaling City Sound #jazz

What’s in a Name? Greg Abate’s fresh new Motif
Speaks volumes about playing great bebop

Motif might be the title of Greg Abate’s new album, but it could just as easily, and perhaps more appropriately be called Conversations for the way it feels. Each song breezes beautifully by, with Abate’s organic spume of notes, cascading effortlessly the way wind pushes over a field of wheat. Abate is masterful in the way he handles a variety of themes (or topics) and the disc is persistent and interesting, the way an adept communicator can be when making great conversation.

Abate, a master on the alto saxophone, has been doing this a long time, and his experience lifts up the songs on Motif, shines a light on them, and makes the record a joy to listen to. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded himself with an impeccable cadre of musicians: drummer Mark Walker, inimitable bassist John Lockwood, and pianist Tim Ray. Together, they encircle Abate with a cushiony, luxurious musical bumper, keeping Abate on track with his blowing yet also allowing him the space for full expression. Abate certainly takes advantage. Fans of the sax, and alto in particular, will revel in his tone and note choices, as he explores the full range of the instrument.

He plays with immense personality and always has. Going back to his earliest days as a professional—in the Ray Charles Orchestra (where he, if you recall, replaced the one of a kind, David “Fathead” Newman) and the Artie Shaw band, led at the time by clarinetist Dick Johnson. Since then, he has been at it on and off, mostly on, and his dexterity stands out on Motif.

The record opens with the zesty title track, a re-harmonization of the standard “All the Things You Are.” It moves smoothly into the slower, and slightly bluesy “Buddy’s Rendezvous,” an elegy to Abate’s late friend Buddy Hawkins. That, in turn segues into “Snowfall,” a peaceful evocation of the title matter, that is brisk and light, even while Abate’s minor key composition and solid alto paint a beautiful picture of what it might have been like on the inside looking out. “Bittersweet,” the track that follows, is deep and personal, with a bossa nova underpinning and, according to Abate, “several different key centers.”

It’s easy to continue in this vein, but we won’t. The songs are easy to hear and artfully executed. Like an exhilarating talk between friends, it is beautifully paced and wonderfully articulated.

On Motif, Greg Abate presents prima facie evidence proving he belongs near the top of the list when the subject is today’s top sax players. Abate reminds us, as the notes tumble generously out of his horn, that he deserves every jazz fan’s unwavering attention.

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