You don't have to go to Texas to hear a groovin' saxophonist with a big Texas tenor sound. Just check the listings around Massachusetts for a guy named Nat Simpkins. When you find out where he's playing, make plans to go and hear him
Spare Ribs, Simpkins latest album on his own Bluejay label, is a swinging outing featuring the leader in a foot-tapping organ trio setting. The repertoire is composed of all Simpkins' originals plus a rendition of the Vernon Duke classic "Autumn In New York." There is an expanse of material here - ranging from "Muchacho," a bossa-nova groove with a Mexican flavor, to the obviously gospel-tinged "Gospel Truth," to "Calypso Gal," and the down-home, bluesy "Rib Joint."
Simpkins' big, fat Texas Tenor sound is both rousing and seductive throughout the album. On "Arnett Is Comin To Town," a minor blues, Simpkins' influence by notable Texas tenor players including Arnett Cobb and soulful tenor soloists like Stanley Turrentine and Houston Person is unmistakable. I thought I was listening to Turrentine - and I mean that as a compliment to Simpkins for how effectively and deeply he has assimilated the ideas of these jazz masters. On "The Cleanhead Shuffle" Simpkins offers a tip of the hat to Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, and grooves with a backbeat that cuts to the bone, and a gut-grabbing solo.
Simpkins is tastefully backed throughout by Cecil Brooks on drums, Eric Johnson on guitar and Dave Braham on Hammond B-3 organ. Johnson's credits include performances with organists Jack McDuff, Groove Holmes, alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, Ramsey Lewis and others.
If you enjoy what's on this album, as I do, there's good news. Two other albums on Simpkins Blue Jay label feature the same personnel in equally swinging performances. On Dave Braham's album Blue Gardenia, you'll hear standards like "Love For Sale," "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Time After Time" and others; and guitarist Eric Johnson's album Makin Whoopie includes Cole Porter's "Easy To Love," Ellington's "Prelude To A Kiss" and eight others.
According to the liner notes, Simpkins invested a lot of time and effort working with the great Texas tenor saxophonists. It shows. If you want a lively way to start your weekend, bring home the barbecue chicken and ribs and put on the latest Nat Simpkins CD.
(Courtesy of The Green Mountain Jazz Messenger)