Bill Easley has an extensive résumé as a sideman, but has led relatively few record dates of his own during his long career. But this excellent disc ought to open up more recording opportunities for him. With a potent rhythm section comprised of pianist Larry Ham, bassist Hassan JJ Shakur, and veteran drummer Michael Carvin (the latter a strong leader in his own right), the tenor saxophonist explores familiar material from a wide background in new avenues. His boisterous R&B-flavored take of Nat King Cole's "Straighten Up and Fly Right" features his gritty tenor and some comical spoken asides in spots. The Off Broadway Woodwind Ensemble add a lush background of reeds to several tracks, including a gorgeous rendition of "September Song," and provide additional color to the snappy setting of Randy Weston's "Hi Fly." "Chelsea Bridge" falls into a rut on many record dates, but Easley's breezy approach with a Latin undercurrent gives it a fresh sound. The leader is equally enjoyable soloing on clarinet (while overdubbing his tenor), playing a classic jazz gem like W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues" that would find him at home with any traditional jazz band; cornetist Warren Vaché is a special guest and he provides the perfect foil for Easley. Finally, with the addition of fellow tenorist Frank Wess on Easley's cooking "Mentor," the quartet sounds like a much larger ensemble with the two full-bodied tenor players. Highly recommended.
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AllMusic Review by Ken Dryden