Don Lanphere’s career started as an impressive saxophonist in 1949 by playing with legends Fats Navarro, Woody Shaw and Woody Herman. Except for a Woody Herman stint at the end of the Eisenhower era, drug use and incarceration blemished his musical path for a thirty year period. It was only when he kicked the habit in 1982 that he started to make music again. Lanphere still retains his musicality and vision as evidenced in his latest CD, "Where Do You Start?"
The album begins with an impressive pair of pieces, ‘Ragazza de la Mer,’ and ‘All Across the City.’ They form a kind of rhymed couplet. The former displays a quiet splendor and a lovely, delicate atmosphere. As the title implies, one can envision an Italian girl silently wandering along the French Riviera. It is sunny and the skies are azure. This is contrasted with the somber second track. This landscape feels cooler and gray, and the stranger is more pensive within this bleak urban fabric. On both these pieces, saxophonist Lanphere and pianist Marc Seales play to great effect and sensitivity.
From here the pieces tend to blur but delivers a palette of the fate of a creative person soaked in repression. ‘Wilke’s Grin’ is a sophisticated and complex piece using different time signatures. It is carefully conceived, meticulously played and rigorously reserved. Likewise, ‘Blues Away’ is an amiable enough blues shuffle. It sounds as if it were caught in a kind of time warp as it reminds me of a Jack Lemmon film from the early 1960s: a cock-eyed guy with a sly grin stuck in a flannel suit and cheesy tie. You can almost hear a request for a shot of booze in ‘Cottage for Sale.’ This atmospheric piece could be in a lonely late night hotel bar and a crumpled-suited guy feeling regret and bitterness swishing his drink around and around. A conclusion of sorts is reached in the poignant and beautifully played piece, ‘Where Do You Start?’
There is a loose end and that is ‘Methuselah’s Grin.’ I’m sure it was meant to serve as humorous contrast to the rest of the album, with the trombone as the mama duck and the cornet as the wayward duckling. But really it sounds like a studio-inspired knock-off that detracts from the rest of the album.