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Three Point Landing by Tony Vacca

Sometimes the roundabout route is the most direct path to recording success. In Tony Vacca's case, he started out in New Jersey, where he played in the family's band. Then he got his degree at Arizona State University. Then he spent 16 years in Chicago, developing the muscular tenor sax sound associated with numerous players who honed their skills there like Johnny Griffin, Eric Alexander or Von Freeman. Then in 1998, he returned to Arizona, no doubt becoming one of the leading jazz saxophonists in the Valley of the Sun. And yet, when it came time to record the first CD on which he is the leader, he went to New Orleans, where Louisianans formed the rhythm section and where producer Irvin Mayfield resides. And still, Three Point Landing was released on New York-based Half Note Records.

But then there's the music.

It's evident that Tony Vacca has been listening to classic jazz as long as he has been playing, developing a style that eliminates extraneous thought or notes as he concentrates on the essentials of the music. With an assertive tone, Vacca's approach is brawny, even as he varies his ideas throughout the CD according to the exigencies of the tunes.

"Shoe Suede Blues," the only tune on which trumpeter Mayfield appears, develops into a rollicking, fun-to-listen-to variation on the timeless blues changes, Mayfield blaring out streams of notes over the range of the instrument and throwing in smears while Vacca on alto recalls the saxophonists who whipped up crowds in front of big bands. Yet, on Vacca's composition, "Cerromar," he lightens the feel of his music by leading on flute, as he does on the mysterious "Don Quixote" as well.

Still, the standards receive due respect as Vacca tackles the chestnut, "Body And Soul," using the evergreen song as the launching pad for inimitable sadness-mixed-with joy expressiveness, as only the saxophone is capable of, as did of course Coleman Hawkins. And yet, Vacca, his saxophone voice clearly defined by his use of the instrument's middle range, as did Hawkins, personalizes the tune with cleanly articulated improvisation. Paying respect to another tenor saxophonist with a distinctive tone, Stanley Turrentine, Vacca ends Three Point Landing with a swinging and biting version of "Sugar," on which the back-up trio falls into a tightly cohesive groove as well.

All of the back-up musicians have started to make names for themselves with leadership on their own CD's. As a result, Three Point Landing features jazz professionals obviously enjoying themselves during the recording process with solid unity of thought and feeling, not to mention solid solo work that distinguishes the CD.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Tony Vacca
  • CD Title: Three Point Landing
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2001
  • Record Label: Half Note Records
  • Tracks: Samba de Baca, Shoe Suede Blues,* Body & Soul, Cerromar, On Bourbon St., Don Quixote, No More School, You Dont Know What Love Is
  • Musicians: Tony Vacca, saxophone, flute; Irvin Mayfield, trumpet;* Aaron Fletcher, alto saxophone;† Peter Martin, piano; Roland Guerin, bass; Jason Marsalis, drums
  • Rating: Three Stars
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