Benny Golson


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Live Review

by Dave Nathan

This live session recording was made in 1989 as Benny Golson and his group were performing in Porto Maggiore, Italy. With live sessions there's a special vitality and excitement that's missing from a studio recording as the players feed off each other and the audience. Not constrained by time limitations or technical barriers, the quartet lets its collective hair down for 67 minutes of intelligent, but somewhat subdued, improvisation. The program consists of five tunes, three of them Golson compositions, two of which are his most popular pieces. With this short play list there's plenty of time and opportunity for each to get a thorough exposition, and that's accomplished without becoming repetitive.

Consistent with Golson's approach to the music, somewhere between Don Byas and John Coltrane, there are no wild rides into the realm of free or avant-garde. In no way sedate, Golson shows that tenor playing can be exciting without resorting to musical anarchy. His work on his own "Along Came Betty" provides a vehicle for Golson to shape the performance to meet his mood at the time, which seems to be one of serenity. Golson has played this tune with much more vigor on other occasions, especially as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. The tune also provides a major vehicle for the piano of Mulgrew Miller, as he playfully quotes from "Mexican Hat Dance." The sax man and prolific composer's lesser known "Jam the Avenue" recalls Golson's days in his native Philadelphia and, as the title suggests, comes off as a true jam session with a major statement from Golson.

The tour from which this session comes must have been a long one, since the members of the group work as if they have been together for a long time. Typical of a hard bop session, the drumming of Tony Reedus is urgent and demanding, while Miller's piano shines, both comping underneath Golson's tenor and in solo. Peter Washington's bass works hard to make sure matters don't get out of control. This is a good, solid quartet recording.

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