When jazz aficionados get together for serious discussions about best albums of the year, seminal recordings, top tenor players, or other similarly weighty matters, there's no risk that Charlie May and his album Relaxing With... will come up, or even be on anyone's mind. But when any of these same people are ready to throw off the cares and woes of the day and sit back and unwind, chances are this is one of the first records off the shelf. Although Relaxing With... is his first album as a leader, May has been around for quite a while, making a splash on The Colgate Comedy Hour at the tender age of 16. After playing with the likes of Al Hirt and Pete Fountain, as well as leading his own band in Las Vegas, May migrated to the vibrant jazz scene of the Pacific Northwest, where he continues to perform.
May's saxophone is at once mellow, mature, and bluesy. Out of the Lester Young school of tenor playing, with an exceptional sensitivity to the melody line, May wends his way through 12 of the more mellifluous entries in the Great American Songbook. But May's playing is not all buttery. It has enough of a bite to it to keep your attention, as with "When Sunny Gets Blue." Several arrangements sound like a tenor sax would work with the George Shearing Quartet, as the piano work of Jack Perciful and Gaylord Jones is similar to Shearing's. The guitars of Jay Roberts and John Vineet, sounding at times like vibes, with the rhythm of Larry Holloway and Greg Williamson, work together to recreate that Shearing sound. Occasionally one hears a bit of Plas Johnson coming though, as on "Black Coffee" and "Sweet and Lovely." The 1940 Ned Washington/Hoagy Carmichael classic "The Nearness of You" is one of the highlights of the album, with Perciful's piano and Vineet's guitar blending with May's melancholy tenor for an ardent reading. The arrangements were done by Gaylord Jones, and he does a fine job in creating a set of charts that allows Mays to put his best foot forward and interpret this music on his own terms. Recommended.