|Ricky Ford is a gifted, if underrated veteran tenor saxophonist who has been making records for some twenty-five years now. He carries forth the tenor tradition with a big sound reminiscent of Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins, but with a style that employs harmony and meter in such a way that distinguishes him from his predecessors. This CD, entitled Balaena , finds Ford heading an excellent quartet featuring George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Ed Thigpen. Recorded live in Paris last summer at the Sunset Jazz Club, the material is in a straight ahead hard-bop vein, and features all original compositions by Ford. While the music may not be groundbreaking, the high level of the group's performance; the interplay, as well as the individual statements and contributions from each member of the unit, makes this disc more than worth the price of admission.
The session kicks off with Pie Crust , a 32-bar up tempo tune that gives Ford free reign to indulge in some pretty impressive improvisations. Check out the way he metrically modulates. He all over the place! Of course, he knows where the one is; with Cecil Mcbee laying it down behind you, it would be hard not to find it. George Cables, who has worked with the likes of Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, and Dexter Gordon, really digs in on his solo, swinging beautifully and contributing to the momentum of the group. The lightly latin Blues Work is a soulful offering by Ford and company. Essentially a minor blues, this cut captures the raw emotion of Ford's tenor as he wails, honks and screams. The subtlety and economy in which drummer Ed Thigpen lays down the groove is an important contrast to Ford's intensified performance. The title cut is an blowing tune that that goes between up-tempo swinger to ballad with some wild extended improvisations from Ford's fiery sax, while Blues A Hoy is again, another minor blues that begins with a solo bass introduction by Cecil McBee, who then plays a repetitive bass figure between the tonic and fourth, setting up a latin groove for the ensemble. The set closes with the slightly Monkish In Walked Bish , an up-tempo burner that finds Ford in good spirits; concluding with some traded eighths between Ford and Thigpen, ending in a long-anticipated drum solo which really gets the crowd going. Through inspired solos, and unabashed swinging, complemented by a heightened level of spontaneity one can only experience from playing before a live audience, Ricky Ford and company show us what jazz is all about. AAJ