Saxophonist and flutist Carol Sudhalter belongs to the considerable group of fine jazz artists who are well known in their local area but have not built a national following, at least in the US. Carol is unusual, however, in that she has built a considerable reputation in Italy as well as in New York where she currently resides. It has been a constant indictment of American culture that its classical music, jazz, is better understood and appreciated in Europe and Japan than it is at home. (Currently, the music division staff of the Library of Congress are busy cataloging the estate of Lucille Ball, while the archives of several fine jazz musicians, writers, and photographers languish in obscure basements.) One can hardly blame someone like Carol for eyeing Italy’s lively jazz scene, along with its beguiling climate and delectable cuisine. Should she leave our shores it will be a great loss, particularly for New York City, especially Queens, where she has tirelessly championed local artists, particularly women, and led a fine big band, while honing her skills on tenor, baritone and flute. (Carol can also be caught live at the Cajun Restaurant on 8th Avenue inn Manhattan where she plays a brunch session every Sunday.)
Sudhalter’s most recent recording, Shades of Carol, reflects her dilemma. The several tracks recorded in Italy find her in such good form it can only suggest how stimulating she must find that environment. At the same time, she sounds so comfortable among old friends in New York, and the Astoria Big Band swings so hard, that leaving New York would clearly be a wrench. Looks like the permanent jet-lag program is the only solution!
The recording itself is not perfect; the big band tracks were recorded in a church and have a slightly distant feel; there is some imprecision in the ensemble work on the quintet sessions recorded in Rome. There is never time for second takes and endless re-mixes on this kind of project, but this is as it should be; most smooth-jazz recordings are so sanitized there is no life left in them. Each of these sessions, by contrast, have a warts-and-all, day-in-the-life-of-a-working-musician feel to them which is much more appealing. There are four different sessions, two from Italy, two from New York, and Sudhalter is in good form throughout. With Coltrane surrogates stacked floor to ceiling in New York, it is refreshing to hear her brusk tenor style that owes more to Lucky Thompson. This contrasts nicely with her flute work which owes a debt to Rahsaan Roland Kirk and the late Harold McNair. (Readers who would like to know more about McNair are referred to my forthcoming book The Flute in Jazz: Window on World Music!) A little of their humming-into-the-flute technique goes a long way with me so I am glad to hear Carol apply it sparingly.
Lack of thought in selecting material is a pet peeve of mine, but I have to applaud Sudhalter for putting together a nicely balanced program. This includes several under-performed standards and some intriguing originals, two of her own, Dry and It’s Time, Firm Roots by Cedar Walton, and a couple by the often-overlooked Tadd Dameron, Soultrane and On A Misty Night. Billy Strayhorn’s Lotus Blossom, winsomely sung by Martha J., is notable for the original lyrics by Roger Schore.
For the Astoria Big Band numbers Sudhalter turns to the baritone saxophone, her gruff playing owing more to Pepper Adams and Leo Parker than Gerry Mulligan. Again, the material is fresh; how often do we hear On A Slow Boat To China?
Perhaps if plenty of people log onto www.sudhalter.com and purchase a copy of this CD Carol may decide to stay in the U.S. when she retires from her teaching position at the end of the year. After all, Italy has Venice, Florence, pasta, great ice cream, Lake Como, the Sistine Chapel . . . But Queens needs the Astoria Big Band and Carol Sudhalter.