LINER NOTES by Howard Mandel – Author & Jazz Journalist
CD RELEASE CELEBRATION at LE POISSON ROUGE
FEBRUARY 20, 2018
Anyone who’s ever heard reeds and winds improviser Jay Rodriguez play live or on record – like with Groove Collective (which he co-founded and co-led), Guru’s Jazzmatazz project, or Ray Barretto, David Murray, Roy Nathanson and other highly regarded composer-instrumentalists dating back to 1992, when he made his mark in John Zorn’s Sax Cobra — knows he’s an engaging and engaged big-hearted musician who pours his all into his family of instruments and his collaborative efforts. Prodigious as Rodriguez been for more than 25 years, however, Your Sound is the saxophonist-flutist-bass clarinetist’s album debut as a jazz bandleader.
For this auspicious emergence, Jay brought together an exciting ensemble to address melodically intriguing, swinging repertoire with which to charm the discerning, SRO audience at Dizzy’s Club (JALC), NYC, on the night of Rosh Hashanah, 2016. He lets loose on original tunes and seldom heard standards, enlisting the great Billy Harper as second saxist with whom to weave and spar; remarkably versatile pianist Larry Willis; in-demand (one hearing tells you why) Brooklyn bassist Eric Wheeler; drummer J.T. Lewis, famed for associations with Living Colour, the trio Harriet Tubman, and actress/singer Vanessa Williams, and Billy Martin of Medeski Martin & Wood on percussion. This troupe imbues their music with drive and nuances that remain vivid beyond the moment of their creation.
Ghost Dancer, the opener, ties Rodriguez’ introductory theme to Congo Dance by multi-reedist Prince Lasha from The Cry, his 1962 album, co-led by saxophonist Sonny Simmons – akin to the two-horn front line, Jay, blowing freely on flute and tenorman Harper, established here. As Harper steps back, Rodriguez opens up Golden Earrings, written by Victor Young for a 1947 Marlene Dietrich movie, using his tenor, alto and soprano saxophones against a counter-theme that darkens and stiffens the song’s romantic flow.
He concentrates on soprano on his composition Clouds, darting, floating, soaring and landing gently after an episode that spotlights the rhythm trio. On All of You, Cole Porter’s song embedded in the jazz canon by a masters’ rendition, Jay takes the first tenor solo, a flurry of assertions and appreciations. Billy Harper, having underscored him, reiterates the song to conclude it. Bassist Eric Wheeler picks a furious pace for Your Sound, the horns phrasing together, more slowly, for an Ornette Coleman effect of highly contrasting yet truthfully complimentary parts, which Willis and J.T. Lewis add to harmolodically before a lovely coda of Billy Martin’s small gamelan-like chimes and bells.
When the Stars Fell is Rodriguez’ ballad, limned on flute, extended tenderly by Willis, bass, and drums subtle throughout. Spirits, another original (with nods to Charles Mingus’ “Haitian Fight Song”), features Rodriguez on alto sax at his most beseechingly funky, Harper on tenor. Turning to Inolvidable (“Unforgettable”), iconic Puerto Rican singer-bandleader Tito Rodriguez’ signature bolero on which Harper’s tenor is prominent, Jay luxuriates in low registers with his bass clarinet. He picks up his tenor again to lay out the gleaming, uptempo Lover in tandem with Harper. The two testify soulfully on Kiss and Say Goodbye, which regardless of its country implications, was a big hit in 1976 for R&B vocal group, The Manhattans.
And the crowd goes wild, naturally — aroused by such sweet sounds, presented without artifice, only art, by musicians with the purist of motives in mind. Making heartfelt music with similarly devoted others and sharing it widely is Jay Rodriguez’ mission. He’s been unusually successful at that, and yet takes a giant step with this project to further spread the joy. It’s his music, and that of his confreres, but offered eagerly, in hopes you too will embrace it. It’s Your Sound.
ARTIST WEBSITE: jayrodriguez-music.com