Now Hear This is Sam Noto's first album as a soloist in more than 20 years, and he had to go to Canada to make it. Joined by a fine group of musicians, he romps through a playlist consisting of originals and two standards. The Noto material is loosely constructed to provide plenty of room for each player to do some serious improvising. Premier Canadian tenor saxophone player Kirk MacDonald is prominent throughout the album. His work on "Spring Again" and "Soul Fats" is especially impressive, as he whirls through a series of complex chord changes. MacDonald's performance shows (again) that he deserves greater recognition. Noto shows considerable virtuosity on all cuts. He is not a high-register player, preferring to stay within the boundaries of the trumpet's middle register. His trumpet is very lyrical, and takes a romantic turn on his "Reminiscing," a well-arranged, pretty, and absorbing ballad that is the album's premiere presentation. Though there is extensive soloing throughout, ensemble work isn't ignored. On "No Room at the Rex," the group shows off its ability to swing mightily. "Soul Fats" recalls several trumpet-led bop groups of the '50s and '60s, such as those headed by Kenny Dorham, Clifford Brown, or Noto himself (on his early recordings for the Xanadu label). On "How Deep Is the Ocean," Noto's trumpet takes on a Miles Davis hue, especially in the opening chorus. Playing over the melody line, Noto, with considerable assistance from Mark Eisenman's piano and MacDonald's tenor, mines precious musical nuggets from this oft-recorded Irving Berlin classic. The remaining standard, "These Are the Things I Love," is strictly Noto's. For four minutes, Noto's muted horn wends and weaves around and through this tune with striking virtuosity. Now Hear This is a musical declaration from a veteran trumpet player accompanied by an accomplished group of jazz players.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Nathan