James L. Dean


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Despite the masterful playing of Buddy DeFranco and Eddie Daniels, the clarinet remains closely associated with Dixieland and swing. James L. Dean sought to change the clarinet's image with this Cexton release. With the exception of the opening "Chero-Trane" (a Coltranized version of "Cherokee" on which Dean plays tenor), this set exclusively features the leader exploring Coltrane tunes on clarinet. In most cases Dean (who has a cool tone) casts new light on the music (which includes such tunes as "Giant Steps," "Naima," "Moment's Notice" and "Lazy Bird"); only the complex "Locomotion" sounds a little wooden. Dean mostly uses a sparse backup group with six of the eleven songs finding him joined by guitarist Vic Cenicola, bassist Ron Naspo and Glenn Weber on drums (or sometimes just conga). The remaining five pieces utilize pianist Jim McNeely (whose name is misspelled on the CD's back cover), bassist Naspo and drummer Terry Clarke. James Dean's versions will not make one forget the original John Coltrane recordings but they do make the material sound quite fresh and unusual and may lead to some listeners re-evaluating the potential of the clarinet. Based on this record alone, Dean should be rated among the top five jazz or six clarinetists active in the mid-'90s.

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