Monday, November 11, 2013

Review: Inspire Me! - Tim Warfield

Personnel: Tim Warfield: tenors saxophone; Herb Harris: vocals (6&7), tenor saxophone (3); Antoine Drye: trumpet (1, 2, 3, 5, 8); Kevin Hays: piano; Greg Williams: bass; Rodney Green: drums.

The recording starts with “Monkee See Monkee Doo” (5:50), a lower-mid tempo blues with trumpet and tenor sax in harmony on a gritty, slightly whimsical theme.  Drye takes the first solo, laid-back and cool.  Warfield displays soulfulness and maturity in his solo, avoiding pyrotechnics.  Hays then contributes a straightforward solo, maintaining the theme of soulfulness, and Williams plays an understated bass improvisation.

“Robert Earl” (5:33) is an Ellington-esque ballad with tenor and muted trumpet in harmony on the theme.  Warfield then plays a strong solo, a good mix of technique and emotion, his classic tenor sound ringing clear as a bell.  Hays’s lines also ring clearly in his lovely solo.  The cut ends with a repeat of the somber theme.  Everyone plays well here, though it seems somewhat early in the recording for a ballad.

“Ny Daze Ny Knights” (10:36) starts with a drum solo, then moves into a lower mid-tempo jazz waltz, with a pretty, bittersweet theme (a bit reminiscent of Wayne Shorter’s “Edda”) played in harmony by trumpet and two tenors (the second being Herb Harris).  Warfield’s solo starts simply and then moves into a series of flashy, Johnny Griffin-esque runs, including a little growl in his tone.  Harris’s tone is smoother and has a bit of a cry in it; his phrasing is more slippery than Warfield’s, and he glides through the changes expertly.  Drye aims for prettiness in his solo (shades of Tom Harrell), with a few technically astute phrases thrown in.  Hays then creates his own fine composition at the keyboard with his improvisation.  After a repeat of the theme, Warfield adds some more improvisation, playing some soulful phrases and authoritative runs.  The band seems to come to a quiet finish, but Green doesn’t let go, adding a nice touch with a drum solo that closes the cut the way it began.    

“When I'm Alone With You” (6:07) begins with some wordless crooning (Harris?), and then a gentle reading of a pretty ballad theme from Warfield.  Then Warfield plays a thoughtful and meticulous solo, and Hays plays one that shimmers.  Warfield plays the theme to close the cut. 

“Inspire Me!” (8:25) has a straight-ahead melody taken at a strolling mid-tempo, with tenor and trumpet in unison.  Warfield then puts together a fine solo, again keeping his phrasing well under control.  Drye then plays a very lyrical solo, wielding his trumpet like a flugelhorn.  Hays then contributes a solid solo.  The ending of the cut is, oddly, a bit harsh.

“What If's” (6:45) is another ballad, this one sung by Herb Harris in a heartfelt, pleasant voice.  Warfield then plays an elegant solo, at turns bluesy, emotional, and fleet.  Warfield then plays the theme, and Harris finishes with another run through of the lyrics.

“A Tinge of the Melancholy” (4:37), a straightforward, gentle swinger, is another vocal feature for Harris, whose agreeable reading gets some accompaniment from Warfield’s background improvisations.  Then Warfield takes a modest solo, finishing it with a few flourishes.  Hays then contributes a sophisticated, classy solo.

The recording finishes with an alternate take of “Monkee See Monkee Doo” (5:57).  After a statement of the theme, Drye plays a cool trumpet solo, wearing his Miles hat.  Warfield is swaggering and bluesy and includes a few nice upper register screams.  Hays plays another delicately scene-stealing solo, and Williams adds a soulful, old-school bass solo. 

From the title of Inspire Me!, one might expect fireworks from this recording, but it provides virtually the opposite.  The whole recording stays firmly on the traditional side, dominated by ballads and gently swinging tunes, but it does this about as well as it can be done, with commitment, maturity, and consummate skill.  Warfield plays very well throughout, providing down-to-earth, measured improvisations with an indestructible tone (though I know he can really burn when he wants to, and I wish that side came out a bit more on this recording just for a change of pace).  Drye deserves special notice for his unassuming but impeccable playing, and Hays practically steals the show—every time he takes the spotlight, he maintains the laid-back feel that is the hallmark of the recording but also subtly captures the listener’s interest with his crystalline and imaginative phrasing.  Insprire Me! looks to jazz’s past more than Warfield’s previous Eye of the Beholder, but it is more cohesive and is flawlessly executed, resulting in a very satisfying listening experience.  

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