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Close Up by Jim Snidero

It looks as though Jim Snidero may be close to becoming an overnight success. So far it has only taken him thirty years or so! This is about par for the course for a jazz musician these days. After all, all you have to do is totally master an instrument-frequently more than one; Snidero, for example has recorded on flute and plans to do more with it in future. Then you need an exhaustive knowledge of music theory; you have to create melodic lines that fit with the underlying harmonies and do it in real time, often at lightening speed. This is done without benefit of pencil and eraser although, in many cases, you need to know how to write arrangements also; Snidero learned string writing in order to prepare the arrangements for his previous recording Strings and wrote six of the compositions on Close Up. Once you have done all of this you may be ready to rise to the top of your profession so that you can be treated with indifference by most of the music business and ignored by the majority of the population!

Jim Snidero is a prime example of this process. After graduating from the University of North Texas, Snidero came to New York where he has lived and worked since 1981. During that time he has honed his craft in hundreds, maybe thousands, of appearances both as a bandleader and as a sideman, including stints with Jack McDuff, the Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra, the Mingus Big Band, Eddie Palmieri's Latin Jazz Octet, Brian Lynch, Conrad Herwig, Walt Weiskopf, Joe Magnarelli, and many others. He was also a member of Frank Sinatra's Orchestra for four years. He has issued a dozen CDs under his own name, featuring many leading jazz artists, among them Tom Harrell, Kenny Kirkland, Benny Green, Mulgrew Miller, George Mraz, and Billy Hart. Snidero has also made a considerable contribution to jazz education both as a clinician and author of method books. He is currently an instructor at the Mannes School of Music in New York City.

After all of this work, culminating, perhaps, with his being dubbed a "master musician" by Downbeat Magazine, and receiving considerable critical acclaim for Strings, Snidero, along with who-knows-how-many other fine musicians in New York and elsewhere, remains virtually unknown to the record-buying public, largely lost among the welter of pre-digested pap that passes for jazz on the so-called Jazz Radio channels. His response could have been to opt for a style of noise and clamor in an attempt to gain attention. But his artistic sensibilities have kept him mining the central aesthetic vein that constitutes the current mainstream of jazz. Listing his influences as Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Cannonball Adderley, Kenny Dorham, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, and John Coltrane, Snidero states: "I'm trying to blur the lines of traditional harmony, melody and rhythm, and still keep it meaningful." Close Up finds him moving one step closer to that ideal.

Having experimented with string writing in his previous recording, Snidero decided to follow this with the simpler, but no less demanding, context of the classic horn-plus-rhythm format, with the addition of tenor player Eric Alexander on five of the tracks. With the Hazeltine-Gill-Drummond trio in close support they deftly negotiate Snidero's charts which are filled with just enough twists and turns to ensure that the interest never flags. He is fond of twelve and sixteen measure forms with an occasional tag thrown in, such as Windswept with thirty-two measures plus a four measure tag, or Blues For The Moment where he inserts a four measure release between iterations two and three of the twelve measure blues form, or the waltz-time Reality where a four bar episode concludes three sixteen measure sections. As for the soloists, the watchword is fluency. Alexander puts his own stamp on a basic Coltrane bag, while Hazeltine contributes fleet right-hand lines, drawing a tone reminiscent of Tommy Flanagan from the piano. And Snidero himself spins out wonderfully clean, inventive lines. His stated influences are much in evidence, but his lightish sound and rapid execution also, for me, evoke the early Art Pepper, as well as one of his own teachers-Phil Woods. He never resorts to aimless scribbling, even at the quickest tempos, while his ballad interpretation of Prisoner Of Love is filled with exquisitely oblique lines and a lovely little cadenza. Nippon Blue, a slow blues performed without the piano, is a nod to Coltrane and Adderley while Windswept is a tour de force for Snidero who flies through the complex changes with unerring inventiveness.

It has taken a century for jazz to develop this classic, post-modern genre. In the hands of players like this it is a thing of beauty. Highly recommended.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Jim Snidero
  • CD Title: Close Up
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Milestone
  • Tracks: Close Up, I Should Care, Nippon Blue, Windswept, Blues For The Moment, Reality, Prisoner Of Love, Smash
  • Musicians: Jim Snidero - alto saxophone; Eric Alexander - tenor saxophone [1, 3, 5, 6, 8]; David Hazeltine - piano; Paul Gill - bass; Billy Drummond - drums
  • Rating: Four Stars
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