Adam Schroeder makes his debut as a leader with A Handful of Stars. Following a number of giants who have played the baritone sax, Schroeder's approach is closest to that of Gerry Mulligan, due to his emphasis on the big reed as a melodic instrument, plus his preference for a pianoless quartet. Schroeder, who has recorded with Clark Terry, Bennie Wallace, Taylor Eigsti, Anthony Wilson, and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, recruited the co-leaders from the latter band, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, plus guitarist Graham Dechter (also a Clayton-Hamilton sideman). "I Don't Wanna Be Kissed" is a perfect example of a great song that has been overlooked by jazz musicians; Schroeder's robust baritone sizzles in Josh Nelson's lightly swinging arrangement. Cole Porter's "I Happen to Be in Love" is another forgotten gem worthy of attention; Gerald Clayton's scoring of it reveals its potential, accented by the tasty solos of Schroeder, Dechter, and John Clayton. The baritone saxophonist is also up to the challenge of familiar works. His novel duo setting of Duke Ellington's "Just A-Sittin' and A-Rockin'" opens with his reed accompanied by Clayton's whimsical arco bass, though Clayton does alternate playing pizzicato as well. The leader's cooking setting of the standard "Just in Time" pulses with energy, with Dechter's solo showing shades of the great Bucky Pizzarelli. Schroeder's compositions are also potent. The breezy funk vehicle "Midwest Mash" recalls the groove sound popularized in the late '60s and early '70s, showcasing Dechter's bluesy solo. Schroeder's lush ballad "Hidden Within" was jointly arranged by the saxophonist and guitarist, where his horn almost seems to whisper. This is a well-conceived debut by the talented Adam Schroeder.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden