Billy Pierce: Star Eyes

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.

September 15, 2009 · 0 comments


Art Pepper: Star Eyes

Art Pepper doesn't meet "a" rhythm section on this 1957 date – he meets the rhythm section. Best known for their tenure with Miles Davis (with whom they were still working at this time), Garland, Chambers and Jones combined the simple sophistication of Swing Era groups with the prodigious fire of the great bebop bands. They collectively improvised, delicately supported their leader, played comfortably fast, and perhaps most importantly artfully interacted on quieter mid-tempo tunes and sensitive ballads. This team therefore pioneered the all-encompassing post-bop rhythm section – even though they were often playing bop. Perhaps most illuminating here is the enormous amount of space left for Pepper, notwithstanding all three rhythm section mates playing plenty of notes. Their sympathetic musicality allowed for Pepper to take his improvisation wherever he wanted – an important development in modern jazz. The rhythm section, though, with their uncanny predictions, was always a step ahead.

June 11, 2008 · 0 comments


Tina Brooks: Star Eyes

Tina Brooks did not record during the last dozen years of his life, and was a largely forgotten figure at the time of death from liver failure in 1974. But the hard-bop recordings he made for the Blue Note label between 1958 and 1961 continue to enjoy a cult following. This rugged tenor saxophonist captured the hard-bop ethos of the era, with rugged performances that stripped away the sentimentality of songs such as "Star Eyes." Love songs became gritty anthems to self-determination, pushing and prodding the music farther and farther along -- in this case for more than eight minutes. Charlie Parker may have recorded the definitive 1950s-era version of this standard, but Brooks finishes ahead of the rest of the pack on this marathon performance. The tenorist is admirably assisted by trumpeter Lee Morgan and a first-rate rhythm section.

May 15, 2008 · 0 comments


Charlie Parker: Star Eyes

Charlie Parker may have owed his fame to his dazzling, finger-cramping saxophone solos on his own bebop tunes, but one of his most enjoyable sides is his 1950 recording of “Star Eyes.” It is, in my opinion, the definitive recording of this composition, which may have something to do with the all-star quartet here. Parker blows a repeated five-note introduction and then quickly settles into the romance, carving a gentle path through the ballad’s melody and chorus. Pianist Hank Jones comps respectfully while bassist Ray Brown walks the line; drummer Buddy Rich is far more restrained than what we’re using to hearing from him. This “Star Eyes” is pure perfection.

October 26, 2007 · 0 comments


Previous Page | Next Page