Four for All

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Although Sphere was initially formed by Kenny Barron, Buster Williams, Charlie Rouse, and Ben Riley to honor Thelonious Monk, their repertoire expanded far beyond his compositions. There is only one piece by Monk included here, a very playful arrangement of "San Francisco Holiday" (or "Worry Later," as it was tentatively titled by Riverside producer Orrin Keepnews when it was first recorded by Monk). Barron's samba "Baiana" proves to be a lively opener, while "Lunacy" is a tense post-bop chart that inspires some of the group's best playing on the date. Rouse's upbeat "Bittersweet," Williams' moody ballad "Air Dance," and the bassist's calypso-flavored "Lupe" are also tasty originals. "This Time the Dream's on Me" is the only standard, but the call-and-response intro between Williams and the rest of the quartet and Rouse's joyous tenor sax make it a memorable interpretation. Duke Ellington's infrequently played "Melancholia" is simply breathtaking, as Barron's consummate voicings blend beautifully with Rouse's bittersweet sax. Sadly, this was the final recording by Sphere prior to the death of Charlie Rouse on November 30, 1988. It will be somewhat difficult to find, because it did not remain in the Verve catalog for long.

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