No doubt, Larry McKenna must be tired of the comparisons to Stan Getz, but when one listens to It Might As Well Be Spring,
the similarities abound. And McKenna should be flattered. Possessing backgrounds with the Woody Herman Orchestra, but more than ten years apart, both of these balladic saxophonists craft each performance as if its occasion arises from a need to tell an important story, either in recollection or observation, the lines of the melody assuming conversational overtones. McKenna seems to understand that standards from the American songbook provide the appropriate material, with kinetic undercurrent and an emotionally satisfying synthesis of lyrics and melody, for the presentation of his style, warm and fluid and sometimes with an unexpected bite.
Well known in the Philadelphia jazz community, McKenna has taught music for years in area universities, with the unfortunate result that his recorded output has been scarce. It Might As Well Be Spring
follows My Shining Hour,
on which McKenna finally documented not only his distinctive phrasing and tone, but also his ability to gently lead his back-up musicians through the sound of his own horn.
While McKenna's quartet mixes up the standards on this CD--the pulsating "Bluesette" introduction of "One Morning In May" contrasting with, for example, the unembellished soulfulness of "Spring Is Here"--his personalized approach to mining the gems buried within a song remains the constant element throughout It Might As Well Be Spring.
With a slight vibrato, a sudden loosening of embouchure, a breathy softness from easing off a note or the crafting of warm and comforting lower tones, McKenna's sound is one, like those of the saxophone masters, that remains after the CD has completed its 57 minutes.... and then draws in the listener for repeated play. McKenna concentrates not only on the song, but also on the sound of his instrument. Rather than filling in sustained 4- or 8-beat notes with a distracting flurry, McKenna lets the beauty of the tone sustain interest in the ideas contained within the phrase.
"So Many Stars," in particular, seems to highlight the strengths of McKenna's style as he persuasively invites one into the tune, instead of arresting the listener with an stentorian assertion. Even the key in which the tune is played seems to have been chosen carefully to showcase McKenna's range, from the alto-like delicacy of the higher notes to the reassuring cushioning of the lower ones, as if he were modulating his voice for the effect of a subtle but dramatic point.
On the other hand, McKenna proves that he can swing, albeit in effortlessly floating movement, on tunes like "April Showers" or "How About You." With maturity, confidence and sensitivity, Larry McKenna has recorded a memorable CD that reminds listeners how emotionally effective the saxophone can be in evoking a wide range of complex and deeply felt responses from listeners.