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Porgy & Bess

Verve Originals 3145390462



1. Introduction: Jasbo Brown Blues
2. Summertime
3. Here Come De Honeyman / They Pass By Singin’
4. My Man’s Gone Now
5. I Got Plenty O’Nuttin
6. Bess, You Is My Woman Now
7. It Ain’t Necessarily So
8. I Loves You Porgy
9. There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon For New York
10. Oh Bess, Oh Where’s My Bess

Joe Henderson – Tenor sax
Conrad Herwig – Trombone
John Scofield – Electric guitar, acoustic guitar
Stefon Harris – Vibes
Tommy Flanagan – Piano
Dave Holland – Bass
Jack DeJohnette – Drums
Chaka Khan – Vocals (track 2)
Sting – Vocals (track 7)

Porgy & Bess was originally conceived by George Gershwin as an American Folk Opera and premiered in the fall 1935 with a cast of African-American singers, which was highly unusual at the time. However as it contained many songs that had jazz and blues themes, it provided the basis for a number of highly regarded jazz albums including the iconic Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaboration.

Now under the banner of Verve Originals, we are treated to the Joe Henderson version of this work which was first released in 1997. Henderson, who is one of the most original of the post-Coltrane saxophonists, has put together a highly regarded but eclectic group of musicians to bring life to Gershwin’s score.

As might be expected from an album where Henderson is both the producer and arranger (except for I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ which is a Conrad Herwig arrangement), most of the front-line leads and the solo space is taken up by Henderson and thus it becomes his showcase throughout the project. That is not necessarily unwelcome especially on the well-known ballads I Loves You Porgy and Bess, You Is My Woman Now, where Henderson plays with sophisticated elegance and is ably supported by Tommy Flanagan on piano.

On tracks such as My Man’s Gone Now, I Got Plenty O’ Nuttin’ and There’s A Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon For New York, where the band is in full flight, there is a jazz fusion sense to the selections due to the combining of John Scofield’s electric guitar and the vibes of Stefon Harris. Also worthy of mention is the wonderful rhythm section of Tommy Flanagan piano, Dave Holland bass, and Jack DeJohnette drums, which provides both subtle and swinging accompaniment not just on the previously-noted selections, but on all the arrangements.

There are two vocal guests on the date which generate mixed results. On Summertime, the choice of Chaka Khan would not be on the top of anyone’s list to give this classic its due. While starting out the track in a restrained swinging manner, Khan eventually falls into an upper register mode that adds nothing to the song's intentions. On It Ain’t Necessarily So, Sting is somewhat more successful in his interpretation of the piece, although the pseudo-southern accent is a bit of a distraction.

Overall, Henderson is on full display with his amazing melodic gifts and has delivered an album that shows his sympathetic understanding for this traditional material, despite the non-traditional line-up of musicians featured on the recording.

Pierre Giroux

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