new Bebop and Beyond CD, "Friends and Mentors"
, chronicles the relationships that he has had over the years with a number of jazz's finest talents, including Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey, and Benny Carter. It also pays tribute to some of the giants who have had a substantial influence on his playing over the years, namely Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Charles Mingus. Martin delivers a worthy tribute album, aided by some of the New York scene's finest players.
There have been a number of incarnations of the Bebop and Beyond band over the years, and each reads like a 'Who's Who' of outstanding players. This latest group is no exception, featuring the front line of Mel, Bobby Watson, and the under-appreciated Jack Walrath on trumpet. The rhythm section swings between Mike Longo or George Cables on piano and Winard Harper or Billy Hart on drums, anchored throughout by Ray Drummond on bass.
Martin's all-original compositions provide the roadmap for this CD. (Incidentally, in keeping with Mel's dedication as a mentor and teacher to jazz students, many of his charts can be downloaded from www.melmartin.com
.) The disk opens with a strong bebop tune, "Song for M", based on ideas that McCoy Tyner often played when Mel was a sideman in McCoy's big band. Legendary alto saxophonist and trumpeter Benny Carter (who just turned 95 on August 8!) provides the inspiration for "Music Is". Carter and Martin have been long-time friends, and Mel's admiration for Benny is apparent in this swinging tune, whose melody alludes to "Let's Get Lost".
Other highlights include the wonderful ballad "For Duke and Mingus", written by Mel many years ago, around the time of Duke's passing. Mel captures the essence of a Mingus ballad such as "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" and the band radiates it through Mel's powerful solo statements as well as the solid work of George Cables and Ray Drummond. Cables also swings nicely on "Riding with C", dedicated to Mel's wife of 35+ years, Catey. Jack Walrath gets to show off his skill with his harmon-muted trumpet on "In Walked Diz", inspired by Martin's long-time association with Dizzy Gillespie.
The band stretches out on "Longhorn", an uptempo hardbop swinger dedicated to Art Blakey and reminiscent of the high-energy performances of the Jazz Messengers. Former Messenger Bobby Watson shines brightly on this tune. The band winds up its excursion by venturing into Coltrane territory on the modal-flavored "Hub-Trane", which draws its inspiration from the advanced work of John Coltrane and Freddy Hubbard. Both saxophonists give the tune a thorough workout, with Watson on alto and Martin on curved soprano.
"Friends and Mentors" is a superior effort by one of the finest groups of veteran musicians that I have had the pleasure of hearing recently. As Dr. Herb Wong writes in the CD liner notes, "Real music breathes, and the music herein ebbs and flows, retaining the organic reality of human life."