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Jorge Nila

Tenor Time: Tribute to the Tenor Masters

NINJAZZ RECORDS 001 [54:18]

 

Fried Bananas [Dexter Gordon]

Soul Station [Hank Mobley]

On A Misty Night [John Coltrane]

Infant Eyes [Wayne Shorter]

Rocket Love [Stanley Turrentine]

Inner Urge [Joe Henderson]

The Everywhere Calypso [Sonny Rollins]

The Eternal Triangle [Sonny Stitt]

Our Miss Brooks [Harold Vick]

Jorge Nila (tenor sax), Dave Stryker (guitar), Mitch Towne (organ),

Dana Murray (drums).

Rec. Omaha, Nebraska. 2018 (?)

Of the four musicians on this album, it is probably fair to say that guitarist Dave Stryker is the only one with very much in the way of an international reputation. All four started out in Omaha, Nebraska. Nila went to the same high school as drummer Dana Murray (though not at the same time); Nila and Stryker have been friends since the 1970s, both having grown up in Omaha; the tenor player and organist Mitch Towner have worked together for a number of years.

Nila spent some years (from 1978 to 1990) away from Omaha, in New York, where he studied with George Coleman (in an album devoted to major tenor players it is slightly surprising that Nila doesn’t feature his most famous teacher). During his years in New York Nila worked with organist Jack McDuff, amongst others. Nila sees all the tenorists to whom he pays tribute here as descendants, as it were, of Lester Young. That seems an oversimplified view of the instrument’s post-swing history – even if one grants that they all must have listened to, and learned something from, that great master of jazz tenor. But it isn’t worth arguing about Jorge Nila’s vision of jazz history; to do so would only get in the way of listening to and discussing the music itself.

Nila doesn’t emerge from this CD (which is, I believe, his second) as a particularly individual voice on his instrument, but he is clearly a thoroughly competent musician, with a pretty big sound on the instrument, well-suited to the format of the tenor and organ quartet (his experience with McDuff will have stood him in good stead in this regard).

Each of the 9 ‘tenor masters’ (I have identified them in square brackets in the track list above) is remembered by a song which they either composed (e.g. in the cases of Gordon, Mobley, Shorter, Rollins and Vick) or by one by which they are associated – either by the jazz audience at large or, in some cases, by Nila himself (e.g.Turrentine and Coltrane).

One or two of the choices reveal things about Nila’s tastes. Relatively few would, I suspect, make Tadd Dameron’s ballad ‘On A Misty Night’ their first choice for a tune ‘representative’ of John Coltrane. Coltrane recorded it (in 1956) as part of a quartet session led by Dameron, and issued as Mating Call in the following year. It is a beautiful ballad and Coltrane’s is a memorable reading of it (Nila’s is pretty good too), but it was recorded before Coltrane had created his mature style – the style which has been (and is) imitated by many later tenor players ever since. Nila is presumably happier with Coltrane’s earlier manner. Stanley Turrentine is represented by the Stevie Wonder tune ‘Rocket Love’ which he recorded on his 1987 album Wonderland: The Music of Stevie Wonder which, in its relative blandness, is some way from being one of Turrentine’s best albums. For most jazz listeners the best representation of Turrentine’s fluent, big-toned playing is to be found in the tracks on albums such as Up at Mintons or Rough ‘N’ Tumble (both on Blue Note).

Elsewhere the choices are easier to understand. ‘Fried Bananas’ written late in Gordon’s years in Europe is a good example of the composer’s often hard-driven synthesis of swing and bop (the tune is based on the chords of ‘It Could Happen To You’), even if Nila’s version lacks the intensity of Gordon’s best performances of the tune. Wayne Shorter’s ‘Infant Eyes’ is a good choice, suiting Nila’s clear love of ballads and, originally recorded in 1964 on Speak No Evil (Blue Note), it is less complex and elusive than some of Shorter’s later work. ‘Soul Station’ is a good way to ‘represent’ Hank Mobley – I put the word represent in inverted commas since Nila doesn’t seek to ‘represent’ (in the sense of imitating) these tenor masters. Rather, he takes a tune for the performance of which each of them is, to varying degrees, famous and offers his own account of it. Nila’s reading of ‘Soul Station’ is intelligent and enjoyable, but it lacks the rhythmic sophistication that makes Mobley’s own performance of the tune memorable.

The more I compare Nila with his ‘originals’ the more I wonder whether he hasn’t done himself a disservice in putting together an album of this sort, though I am sure it must have been great fun to make. Nila isn’t a tenor player of the stature of, say, Gordon, Mobley, Shorter, Henderson or Rollins – but then very few are!

I feel sure that I would enjoy the experience if I had the chance to hear this quartet playing in a club or on a concert stage. I have, indeed, enjoyed listening to this album (despite the reservations I have expressed) and I am sure I shall play it again from time to time; Stryker and Towne, like Nila, impress and they are well supported by Murray. But it is the sort of album I can play in the background while I do some typing or even some undemanding reading. I couldn’t do that with, say, Henderson’s ‘Inner Urge’ or Mobley’s ‘Soul Station – or the albums on which they occur.They would insist on my full attention, in a way that Tenor Time doesn’t quite do, or at least didn’t do after my first couple of listens.

I would like to hear this quartet playing different repertoire – music which doesn’t immediately and explicitly invite comparison with greater musicians. I don’t mean this review to sound negative – but I suspect that Tenor Time is less than the very best that these four good musicians are capable of creating.

Glyn Pursglove


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