Peace Of Mind is the ambitious new recording from master saxophonist Hayes Greenfield. Greenfield, in addition to being a player of monstrous technical ability, also has a penchant for pushing the artistic envelope, both as a composer and an arranger. Peace Of Mind is basically a contemporary, straight-ahead jazz album, heavy on the blues and with a dab of both Eastern and American Indian influences thrown in for good measure.
The core band consists of Greenfield on alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, the seldom-heard sopranino saxophone (a horn that is smaller and higher in pitch than the soprano) and vocals, David Beckman and Tricia Woods on piano, Cameron Brown and Tom Hubbard on bass and Mark Johnson on drums. He’s also gets help from a dozen other vocalists (featured on the tune "The Pied Piper"). Only two tunes on the album features vocals. The first, the aforementioned "Pied Piper," uses the vocal ensemble for various background harmonizing, percussive vocals sounds, Indian-like chants and to sing the main melody of the chorus. It’s an adventurous tune for a jazz album and exhibits a certain earthy, organic quality that is difficult to describe, but which I found to be quite pleasant. The other vocal tune is the ballad "That’s All I Have To Do" on which Greenfield sings the lead vocal, and it’s his only misstep on this otherwise fine recording. It’s not that there is anything wrong with his voice, but there is nothing especially exciting about it either. His vocals on this song are unremarkable at best, and some might even call it boring. He hits all the right notes, but his tone is thin and devoid of any real emotional content or passion.
But when it comes to playing the saxophone, he has few peers. This CD of ten tracks (all written by Greenfield), opens with the high-energy modal tune "Homage To Pharaoh," a tune that truly showcases his extraordinary control of the alto sax. "Pied Piper" is the second track, followed by the lovely "Caravan Of Dreams" in which he treats us to the gorgeous sound of his sopranino sax, an instrument that is notoriously difficult to play well even for the most consummate professional, yet Greenfield makes it sound easy. The next two tunes, "My Eileen" and "Tea For Three" (a ballad and a gentle waltz, respectively), show that Greenfield & Co. can both romance and swing as hard as any band around.
Track 6, the previously discussed "That’s All I Have To Do," is followed by "Girls & Pearls," a beautiful track that is driven by the exquisite piano playing of either Berkman or Woods (unfortunately, the liner notes don’t specify which). It’s played with a laid-back, almost chamber jazz kind of feel. It serves as a great segue into "Fast Feet," a giddy tune played at a blistering pace that borders on being a ‘free’ piece, but that has enough structure that one could argue that it’s actually a bop tune. The next tune, the aptly named "Peace Of Mind," also expresses a great sense of freedom, even though it is a ballad. The fact that it’s played rubato (meaning without a strict rhythm) gives it an aura of light and space that is quite enchanting. The album closes with "Blues For Now," a burning blues number with the band pulling out all the stops.
This is good, hearty jazz music by a well-rehearsed band playing some wonderful compositions. I highly recommend it.