Sonny Red

The Mode

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In the early '60s, modal improvisation was still controversial in the jazz world -- not as controversial as free jazz, but controversial nonetheless. Some hard boppers found the modal breakthroughs of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Yusef Lateef exciting and decided to take up modal playing themselves, while others vehemently disliked modality and refused to play anything but bop. Sonny Red was among those who opted to explore modal improvisation in the early '60s, although the alto saxman never gave up the sort of fast, chordal, Charlie Parker-based bop he was known for. On 1961's The Mode, Red fulfills both needs: the need to investigate modal playing and the need to deal with bop's swift, demanding chord changes. Red is joined by Grant Green on guitar, Barry Harris or Cedar Walton on piano, George Tucker on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums, a team that handles chordal bop and modal post-bop equally well. Red is in good form on post-bop offerings like the title song (which is based on the standard "Out of This World") and a contemplative interpretation of Jule Styne's "Never Never Land," which he approaches in a Kind of Blue-like fashion. But a bop outlook prevails on the Parker-ish "Super-20" and a perky, upbeat version of "Moon River," the Henry Mancini piece that Audrey Hepburn fans will forever associate with her portrayal of the flighty yet charming Holly Golightly in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany's. This vinyl LP isn't a masterpiece, but it's decent and certainly likable. In 2000, Fantasy reissued The Mode and another Red LP, Images, on the CD Red, Blue & Green.

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