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Porgy and Bess by Joe Henderson

I have to admit that even though I listen to a lot of straight-ahead jazz players, I have never paid much attention to Joe Henderson. I have casually listened to his bossa-nova albums, but I didn't find much that captured my attention. However, Verve sent me not one, but two postcards promoting his latest album, "Porgy and Bess", a remake of the classic american art, and I thought I'd give it a try. In addition, it features John Scofield, Dave Holland, Tommy Flanagan, and Jack DeJohnette, along with guest vocalists from Chaka Khan and Sting. You can't go wrong with that combination, and I didn't. Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette make one of the most exciting rhythmic duos in jazz today. And rounded up with the Joe Henderson and John Scofield melodic duo, with Tommy Flanagan on the background, they make a great band.

This album definitely shows Joe Henderson's excellent playing and arrangement talents, and has some real shining moments. The album starts out with a short introduction followed by "Summertime", the Gershwin classic. Chaka Khan delivers some powerful, bitter blues in her vocals, with the rest of the group getting into a tight rhythmic session.

The album radiates from here on and the spark doesn't die. They especially swing in "I got plenty of nuttin" and also in "It ain't necessarily so" with Sting on the vocals, who delivered a great performance. This is interesting since I remember reading somewhere that John Scofield said, "Just because he has a sax solo doesn't mean that he can claim that he (Sting) plays jazz now." Scofield played some funky rhythmic patterns on his guitar behind the melody, and the solo also features Stefon Harris on vibes. Scofield also plays acoustic guitar on several ballads on this album. Even Dave Holland gets to show his compositional color in his bass intro to "Summertime" and "There's a boat dat's leavin' soon for New York". For all of you who are not familiar with Porgy and Bess, it's not that I can't spell the names of the songs, but they are misspelled in the first place. Joe Henderson plays tastefully but I can't help but think that he makes a better bandleader than a saxophonist. He's got great style but I like the more aggressive sax players like Mike Brecker or John Coltrane in that matter. But one thing that he has is patience, which is a rare commodity in this form of art. Or maybe that's just because I need more patience as a listener.

This album is truly a great tribute to the Gershwin brothers' classic Porgy and Bess. It's a shame that it feels a little short for the potential that the band has in further exploring the compositions. I haven't heard too many albums that span 10 tracks in 53:48 and feel short.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joe Henderson
  • CD Title: Porgy and Bess
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 1997
  • Record Label: Verve
  • Musicians: Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Conrad Herwig (trombone), John Scofield (guitar), Stefon Harris (vibes), Tommy Flanagan (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Chaka Khan (vocals track #2), and Sting (vocals track #7)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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