The big, rolled and warm notes of Joel Frahm’s saxophones are all over the liquefying, molten repertoire on The Bright Side. Even when he is playing soprano saxophone, in the instrument’s naturally upper register, his music cooks with a nicely bubbling fire without burning to a grey crisp. Even in the highest notes of the registers – on each of the instruments – his notes are enunciated more like an ecstatic yelp than a hysterical shriek, communicating unfettered joy at playing this music with the darkish rumbling of bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Ernesto Cervini, whose propulsive rattle, hum and sizzle keeps the music moving ever onward and upward.
Mr Frahm has been almost ubiquitous in the horn sections of legendary ensembles led by Dewey Redman, Betty Carter and Maynard Ferguson, and has also graced the bands of Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ben Allison, Ingrid Jensen, and played behind celebrates vocalists such as Tessa Souter, Janis Siegel and Cyrille Aimée – among many others of course. His musical abilities have been liberated by this wide-ranging experience. As a leader he has achieved performances of exceptional emotional detail and this is reflected in the music of this disc, which puts an extraordinary spotlight on his playing; this resulting from carrying a heavy instrumental load – with the absence of a comping, [or] soloing piano in the ensemble.
However, this turns out to be a genuinely expressive outing, as his musical partners are men he has played with on numerous occasions. It would also explain the truly empathetic playing of Mr Loomis and Mr Cervini. The latter’s playing is marked by the breathtakingly restrained and colourised; his time-keeping so exquisitely in the pocket that Mr Frahm and Mr Loomis have the opportunity to undertake long sojourns only to find upon their return that Mr Cervini is exactly where the rumbling beat ought to be, welcoming each returning musical adventurer. “Omer’s World” is an eloquent and memorable example of this interaction between the musicians. Mr Cervini’s own solo outings are – especially the on “Beeline” where he trades elegant licks with Mr Loomis, all the while delicately manipulating the skins with his brushes.
Meanwhile, Mr Frahm is at his finest throughout from his craftsman-like tributes to Joe Henderson “Blow Poppa Joe” and Benny Golson [on] “Thinking of Benny” – both of which have been rather cleverly couched in the phraseology and musical pronouncements of the respective giants of music [and the tenor horn]. Meanwhile everywhere else Mr Frahm plays with a kind of languid ease, each melodic variation following the other, quite inexorably, his sumptuous tenor [and soprano] sound caught brilliantly in the warmth of this recording to die for.
Track list – 1: Blow Poppa Joe; 2: Thinking of Benny; 3: Boo Dip Dip; 4: Silk Road; 5: Omer’s World; 6: Qu’est-ce que c’est; 7: X Friends; 8: Beeline; 9: The Beautiful Mystery; 10: The Bright Side.
Personnel – Joel Frahm: tenor and soprano saxophones; Dan Loomis: contrabass; Ernesto Cervini: drums.
Released – 2021
Label – Anzic Records [ANZ 0068]
Runtime – 1:01:34