Marvin Holladay

Sweetness & Light

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Don't let the title mislead you into thinking this is a recording of ballads or jazz lite. In fact, Holladay's meaty baritone sax works on several different swinging and spiritual levels. His rich sound is truly an awesome presence to behold, steeped in jazz tradition and following in footsteps of masters like Harry Carney, Serge Chaloff, and Pepper Adams. But Holladay is his own man, displaying an original approach that comes closer to Ben Webster for its emotional content, and John Coltrane for its meditative center. Though relative unknowns, drummer Byron Hedgepeth, conga player Ozzie Orengo, and especially bassist Eliot Wadopian ultimately complement Holiday's perfectly conceived and executed musings in many empathetic and quite literate ways. Holladay is also a fine composer, writing four of the eight selections. The title track is a brief baritone-bass ballad, while "Echoes" is a patiently constructed ethereal soli bari intro to a modal swing -- some powerful stuff as Holladay gets increasingly animated. "Pas de Deux" is a free discourse, with Holladay on bass clarinet and Wadopian bowing bass tones, with loose percussion, varied dynamics, and a definite melodic theme stated and expounded upon by the leader. His magnum opus is "Maqam" as a long, resonant bass solo leads to deliberate ostinato and Holliday's pungent, bluesy strut reflected back from the lines of Wadopian. The bari seethes in its deepest blue sea elements; an ultimate statement. The other four are well-known standards. The easy swinging, conga-informed "Drop Me Off in Harlem" proves Holladay knows his Ellington backward and forward. The brushed ballad "You Don't Know What Love Is" displays his talents as a high-caliber improviser and interpreter, and "Makin' Whoopee" simmers in a lightly buttered swing; Holladay swaggers with confidence yet is cognizant and soulful, his baritone startlingly passionate. On "St. Thomas" the percussionists, along with the leader on Gonkoqui Ewe double bell, take up most of the time in a Afro-Cuban workout, with Holladay playing the melody twice through on Ashanti flute at the end. Known primarily as an educator, Holladay also has extensive experience in performance over six decades. His long years of study and instruction are transferred in total for this winner of a recording that should further expose the world to this true unsung veteran of the jazz wars. Highly recommended.

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