The TNEK Quintet Plays Sam Jones

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JONES: Unit Seven. Bittersuite. Some More of Dat. Lillie. O.P. Del Sasser. BARRON: Tragic Magic / The TNEK Jazz Quintet: Antonio Parker, a-sax; Benny Russell, t-sax/s-sax; Darius Scott, pno; Kent Miller, bs; Greg Holloway, dm / TNEK Jazz (no number, available from CD Baby)

Sam Jones (1924-1981), a fine jazz bassist, is not well known as a jazz composer, but according to the publicity sheet that accompanied this CD he was “a musician’s musician.” Thus, bassist Kent Miller of the TNEK Quintet felt it was high time to devote most of a single CD to his work.

I should point out that, like the majority of jazz writers, Jones’ aim was to create swinging, groovy lines that musicians could improvise on, not particularly complex pieces with multiple themes or interesting textures. He was an Illinois Jacquet kind of musician, not someone to create harmonically interesting pieces of the kind Lee Konitz normally plays. If you accept him on his own terms, you’ll enjoy this CD. If you’re looking for the kind of music written by Billy Strayhorn, George Handy, Lennie Tristano, Eddie Sauter, Thelonious Monk or Charles Mingus, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

What struck me most forcibly about this disc was the sheer energy and joie-de-vivre of this particular group. I’m not sure if their name refers to Teaneck, New Jersey, home of at least one famous jazz recording studio, but I have a hunch that it does. Judging from the group photo, most of these musicians appear to be in their fifties or older, which is why they feel so comfortable playing these pieces. It’s the kind of music that’s in their blood.

The opening line of Bittersuite is scored for the two saxes playing in thirds, and is very effective. Most of the first two tracks are dominated by the two saxists, Parker on alto and Russell on tenor, and they are vivacious, lively players of the old school. Listening to them, and the quintet in general, it’s hard to believe that free jazz or fusion ever happened. It’s a happy, swinging jam session without any pretensions. In this number, too, bassist Kent Miller gets a solo as well, and it is a real swinger. This guy could drive any band he was in from the bass chair!

Some More of Dat is unusual in that it is in 6/8, with the rhythm divided somewhat irregularly to give the piece a sort of staggering swagger. When Parker enters on alto, however, the band switches to a straight 4. And does he wail on this one! So too do Russell, Darius Scott and Miller. We return to 6/8 for the last third of the track.

Lillie is a ballad, with Russell’s lovely soprano sax solo being the standout solo here. O.P., which I’m sure was named after legendary jazz bassist-cellist Oscar Pettiford, is a nice, uncomplicated swinger, but although the band plays well on it the solos didn’t strike me as quite as inspired as on some other tracks. Fortunately, the band is really on their toes in Del Sasser. Every solo is interesting, particularly Scott’s, and the quintet as a whole sounds revved up.

The album concludes with Kenny Barron’s Tragic Magic. This is a similar sort of piece, though I couldn’t figure out if they ran out of Sam Jones tunes or just liked this as a closer. In any case, the band is again up and ready for the challenge, particularly Parker on alto and Miller on bass. The piece ends with the two saxes playing opposite one another. In toto, then, a really fine CD to lift your spirits and take your mind off the coronavirus!

—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley

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