Upon seeing that Reality Tonic opens with Charlie Parker's "Au Privave," one might assume that tenor saxophonist Jay Collins is strictly a hard bopper. But Collins isn't the type of artist who gives listeners all bop all the time; this 1995 date has one foot in '40s/'50s hard bop and the other in '60s post-bop. Reality Tonic has one foot in the world of Bird, Sonny Stitt, Wardell Gray, Dexter Gordon, and "I Got Rhythm" changes, and the other in the world of John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, Pharoah Sanders, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk -- a world of post-bop and modal jazz that has a spiritual outlook and a healthy appreciation of Middle Eastern, African, and Asian music. And Collins wears both hats well, although his post-bop material tends to be more risk-taking. Collins is hell-bent for hard bop on an ultra-fast, highly conventional performance of the overdone Cole Porter standard "It's All Right With Me," which offers eight minutes of bop clichés and has more to do with technique than imagination. However, the saxman's version of "Au Privave" is a bit more interesting because he plays it at a slower tempo than usual. But Collins (who plays the Indian bansuri flute as a second instrument) is at his best on the album's world music-influenced post-bop selections, which aren't just about showing off his chops -- they're about feeling, expression, and spirituality. Collins' pyrotechnics on "It's All Right With Me" aren't nearly as memorable as his use of world music influences on "Temple on the Mountain" (which has a strong Jewish/Hebrew flavor) and the African-minded "Unsung Hero." And on "Folk Study," he successfully incorporates both Celtic and African elements. Reality Tonic isn't perfect, but all things considered, it's a nice CD to have in one's collection.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson