Jazz Kitchen, April 24, 2015
4 ½ stars
“Joe Henderson would be 78 today,” Rob Dixon told us. “We’ve assembled this special band because we love the music and spirit of Joe Henderson.”
That love transported us into the enduring compositions of one of the leading jazz tenor saxophonists, whose influence and following continue to grow since his death in 2001.
Henderson’s Sextet featured two trombonists, bass, piano and drums along with his tenor saxophone. April 24 at the Jazz Kitchen, Rob Dixon as leader of the Indy Jazz Fest Tribute Band partnered with Sophie Faught featuring arrangements for dual tenor saxophones with bassist Nick Tucker, drummer Kenny Phelps and pianist Steven Jones. They provided an evening to remember — the sort of ambience Henderson himself created where understatement makes a strong statement.
Opening with “The Kicker,” Henderson’s first release with the Milestone label in 1967, the upbeat rendition reflects the changing jazz scene from the early 1960’s and the transition from Bop into the ‘fusion-esque’ seventies. With Dixon and Faught in unison, the song takes shape and opens itself for personal takes on the tune and where it can go and how it can return—setting us up for the evening’s format for everyone on stage to deliver a soliloquy along with playing in unison. You get a full range of statements from music that was at the cusp of reflecting social consciousness.
“Recorda-me” is a Henderson standard — his benchmark “Remember Me” first released in 1963 on Henderson’s debut Page One
Blue Note album of jazz and hard bop. Phelps introduced the lead-in Latin beat to perfection; Jones strolled into the melody, Tucker fleshed it out and Dixon and Faught responded to the call. Seamlessly, the band was cooking and we were lapping it up, moving in our seats and floating into some extraterrestrial sphere.
The driving rhythm of two saxophones gave “A Shade of Jade” an edge. On Henderson’s fifth studio album Mode for Joe
, this 1966 Blue Note release equally features full spectrum color for every player.
Dixon introduced “Serenity” on the “In ‘n Out” 1964 Blue Note label as "a favorite for Sophie.” Switching to soprano saxophone, Dixon stepped aside for Faught on tenor to begin transporting the band and us into the “particulars” of life. Dixon, underscoring the essentials of compositional imagery, shared influences on his childhood.
“Inner Urge,” which came out in 1965 is a sound pictorial of what it felt like for Henderson to make his way in New York City. The clang and din of traffic, relentless hustle and urge to find a niche collide and diverge. Jones owned this statement at the piano with the others abetting the personal anger and frustration within the din. It's really every player's "Big Apple" biography.
The 1985 ballad “Y Ya la Quiero” with riffs on the admission, “I still love her,” is rhapsodic, introspective and achingly honest. It was a lovely way to end the 7:30 p.m. set. I did not stay for the 9:30 program.
Dixon makes every program he leads special with his personalized stories –sharing what makes each piece important to him and fellow players. He’s upfront and caring about connecting—not merely into playing splendidly. –Rita Kohn