Monday, February 24, 2014

Wayne Waxes (Live and on CD)

Saxophonist Wayne Escoffery turned 39 this past Sunday (2/23) and you wish him a "Happy Birthday" this coming Saturday (3/01) as he and his Quartet play The Side Door Jazz Club in Old Lyme, CT.

Escoffery, born in London, England, moved to the US when he was 8 and settled in New Haven, CT, 3 years later.  After spending several years in a youth choir, Escoffery attended the Neighborhood Music School and the Educational Center for the Arts in the Elm City. He went on to study at the Hartt School to study with Jackie McLean and did his graduate work at the Thelonious Monk Institute at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston.  Since moving to New York City in 2000, he has worked with Tom Harrell, the Mingus Orchestra & Big Band, drummer Ben Riley, Ron Carter's Big Band.  He's issued 6 CDs as a leader plus 2 sessions co-led with his wife, vocalist Carolyn Leonhart.

His 7th CD - "The Wayne Escoffery Quintet: Live at Firehouse 12" - will be issued on March 4 by Sunnyside Records. Besides his regular rhythm section of Rashaan Carter (bass) and Jason Brown (drums), the ensemble also features pianist Orrin Evans and Rachel Z on electronic keyboards. The 36-minute program consists of 4 pieces, opening with "ZWE1", a duet for tenor saxophone and electric keyboard.  In fact, it's all Rachel Z for the first 2:50, her swirling synthesizer sounds setting an ethereal landscape for the entrance of Escoffery.  His warm tenor sound on a plaintive melody softens the piece and leads into "Gulf of Aqaba", an composition first recorded on a CD with Israeli-born guitarist Avi Rothbard.  Here, the Middle-Eastern feel can be heard in the melody line but the rhythm section displays the force of Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison from John Coltrane's classic Quartet.  Evans' powerful piano chords blend nicely with Ms. Z's impressionistic sounds.  Escoffery's solo is fiery, building in intensity until he is high in the tenor's register (without squalling).  The intensity softens for the fine piano solo - here, the electronic sounds resemble a string quartet, quietly shadowing Evans as he spars with the rhythm section. Ms. Z's shimmering and quivering synth work opens "The Only Son of One", the title track of the saxophonist's previous CD.  This piece displays a Wayne Shorter/Weather Report influence in its open-ended melody line and its tranquil feel.  Nothing is rushed, the solos are subdued yet forceful (especially the tenor spot) and the rhythm section is exemplary. The program closes with "Blue Monsoon", an Esmond Edwards composition first recorded in 1973 by Sonny Stitt and again in 1975 by organist Jack McDuff. The track opens with just tenor saxophone, a lovely soliloquy that has great power and poetry.  The band enters on a short phrase that becomes the opening line of the theme. Evans powerful piano solo sets the table for another fiery (but under control) tenor solo, this time with a bluesy feel to many of the phrases Escoffery plays.  Ms. Z's keys really fill out the background, doing so without intruding.

The interaction throughout the set is quite impressive, especially the work of Orrin Evans and Rachel Z.  The 2 keyboards could have been distracting; instead, they complement each other admirably.  The elasticity of the rhythm section is also noteworthy.  Wayne Escoffery goes from strength to strength, his music and musicianship imposing and impactful.  "Live at Firehouse 12" might be short on running time but packs a mighty punch.  For more information, go to    

Not sure who's joining Wayne Escoffery on Saturday at The Side Door but you can be sure the music will be worth your time.  For reservations, go to or call them at 860-434-0886.

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