When, in his liner note to this set, Bill Milkowski claims that George Garzone’s presence “bumps the energy level up a couple of notches from Zimmer’s two previous outings”, he’s drivelling: insulting Zimmer’s group, as if the more experienced master must of course, well, demonstrate that writers like the present reviewer were being less than duly critical, enthusing as some did very recently indeed, about Zimmer’s previous CD.
I received that CD at the same time as another two by quintets along the same general lines, one very respectable and the other well above very good. Zimmer’s band, however, did even more. It’s a rare privilege to have something really standout alongside something good enough to demonstrate just how much of a standout it is.
Frankly, I don’t hear any boost in quality or excitement between Zimmer’s previous set and this one. The titles on which Garzone appears simply aren’t better than the others on this CD, or indeed its immediate predecessor. The pianist Toru Dodo’s slow and sparkling “Dot Dot” reinforces awareness of the solo quality of Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, and David Wong on bass, as well as in ensemble. Garzone might well have inspired his fellow tenorist Joel Frahm—obviously on Garzone’s own “The Mingus That I Knew”, with its two-tenor front line—but only as far as the fact that the two tenors there are equals. It is, of course, only an incidental aspect of the tenor/drums duet on “Bye, Bye, Blackbird” that Garzone’s extended solo there can help listeners hear Frahm’s distinctiveness elsewhere. It’s an excellent manifestation of Garzone’s own considerable merits.
The blend on the opening title’s exposition of Mingus’s musical expression of affection was impressive, but on Garzone’s lyrical “Tutti Italiani”, the two together have an astonishing mutual empathy, a beautiful two-tenor unison. And Frahm’s feel for Garzone’s compositional work is up there with that of Dodo and John Sullivan (who alternates bass duties with David Wong) on that track and on the Garzone quartet performance of the veteran tenorist’s ballad “To My Papa”. The other Garzone-Zimmer duet beside “Blackbird”, “8 A.M. Wednesday Spirit” demonstrates the drummer’s affinities with Garzone, and both men’s affinities with the John Coltrane/Elvin Jones combination.
“Cut Off” was co-composed by Zimmer and Dodo, and finishes things up with medium tempo delight in a melodious bop idiom with many of the virtues in evidence fifty years ago, in an interesting, slightly clipped idiom that allows Dodo’s flowing solo work on piano to be especially telling. The pianist’s individual qualities are there to be heard on the opening track, and on the Mingus tribute the bassist Sullivan’s solo work and ensemble playing are perfectly in place.
It was just a lovely idea to put together a CD with “legendary Boston tenor sax titan George Garzone” (as Milkowski calls him) and this band. Just the sort of thing that happens at good festivals, and gives them a proper festival feel. Given the relaxation that characterises so much of the music, “bumps up excitement” seems all the more pointless a piece of silliness.