Billy Pierce: Star Eyes
Billy Pierce (tenor sax)
Equilateral (Sunnyside 1037)
Composed by Don Raye and Gene DePaul.
Recorded: New York City, Jan. 2, 1988
Rating: 95/100 (learn more)
It was producer/pianist James Williams' idea to put saxophonist Billy Pierce into the studio with just pianist Hank Jones and drummer Roy Haynes, shades of Lester Young with Nat Cole and Buddy Rich or Benny Carter with Art Tatum and Louis Bellson. Fortunately, Pierce had spent three years with Art Blakey (alongside other "young lions" such as Wynton Marsalis and Bobby Watson), and was in the midst of a seven-year long stint with Tony Williams' quintet, so the challenging trio format and the stature of his bandmates was not nearly as intimidating as one might expect for the young saxophonist. Blakey for one had called Pierce "my best tenor player since Wayne Shorter." Alas, Pierce would gradually turn his focus to teaching jazz at the Berklee College of Music (where Mark Turner and Miguel Zenon have been among his students), but his impressive Equilateral session will forever be a key reminder of his ability as a player.
Of course, Jones and Haynes knew "Star Eyes" intimately, having both performed it with Charlie Parker back in the day, but Pierce more than holds his own on this rewarding version. Jones plays the familiar intro before Pierce warmly intones the theme, augmented by the pianist's undulating chords and Haynes' sleek snare drum accents. Jones solos first in his distinctively florid yet at the same time tasteful style, his lines constantly darting and shifting perspective, but seeming to always coalesce in their thematic faithfulness. Pierce's improvisation is brash and almost blustering in spots, his woody tone adding heft to his fleet-fingered runs and swirling circular phrases. Jones' intricate comping and Haynes' urgent but unobtrusive polyrhythms are memorable examples of their individual artistry. Along with Pierce, in the end this engaged trio has shown its respect for the bebop vernacular while also preferring to take the road less traveled.
Reviewer: Scott Albin