Christopher Hollyday

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Dialogue Review

by Matt Collar

Saxophonist Christopher Hollyday was a rising jazz star in the early '90s, who had recorded four albums for RCA/Novus, when he decided to step away from his career and transition into education. The Boston-area native eventually landed on the West Coast, where he spent time as a high school music teacher before climbing on board the jazz faculty at San Diego State University. In 2018, he released Telepathy, his first album in over 20 years. That record found the once puckish "Young Lion" now pushing 50, having lost none of the kinetic bop intensity and lyricism that made him so impressive coming out of high school. Hollyday builds upon that comeback with his 2020 follow-up, Dialogue. Once again joining him are his regular San Diego associates, including trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, pianist Joshua White, bassist Rob Thorsen, and drummer Tyler Kreutel. Together, they play a hard-driving, deeply swinging brand of straight-ahead jazz reminiscent of the bebop-obsessed stylings of the '90s "Young Lions," but with a maturity and harmonic texture that comes with life experience. Hollyday remains a gifted soloist, his bright, supple timbre evoking both the muscular swagger of Phil Woods and the forlorn soulfulness of Art Pepper's later work. Castellanos, who also grew beyond his own initial fame as a member of the under-appreciated '90s jazz group Black/Note, is a perfect foil for Hollyday with a fat, warm tone in the tradition of Freddie Hubbard. They make for a dynamic front line as they spar throughout Dialogue, pushing each other with friendly, bluesy jabs as on the expansive title track. Opening with a sweeping rubato melody that conjures images of a California beach sunrise, the song quickly accelerates with a driving, minor-key intensity as each player takes a turn surfing the song's brisk harmonic waves. Similarly engaging is the springy 12-bar blues "Text Tones," which finds pianist White jumping out of the gate with a frenetic, Thelonious Monk-esque solo. Elsewhere, Hollyday and his band offer a jaunty reading of "You Make Me Feel So Young," dive into the propulsive Latin-tinged number "Pau de Arara," and further draw upon their hard bop influences with their sly take on Horace Silver's "Kiss Me Right." However, it's Hollyday's dusky rendition of the classic ballad "Dedicated to You" that sticks with you the most, as he draws out each line with a yearning romanticism, as if he's calling out to a past lover. It's that tactile sense of musical conversation and lived-in experience, which Hollyday has gained over the years, that separates his early work from the vibrant music on display on Dialogue.

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