Dick Oatts is a name well known to seasoned jazz fans, who recognize him for his work as a sideman with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra (and its descendant, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra), Red Rodney,Bob Brookmeyer, Jerry Bergonzi, Fred Hersch, and others, along with his partnership with pianist Garry Dial. Most of Oatts' recordings as a leader have been for European labels, such as this 2009 session for Steeplechase, his seventh for the Danish company. The focus is on ballads, with Oatts looking to build upon each melody in a creative fashion without losing its essence, something that he does consistently throughout the date. Accompanied by pianist Michael Weiss, either Ugonna Okegwo or David Wong on bass, and drummer Rodney Green, Oatts' renditions of the nine standards plus one well-known Duke Ellington gem, the alto saxophonist gives a virtual master class to young jazz musicians (being a veteran jazz educator as well) on how to construct an intelligent solo built upon a familiar theme without resorting to showboating. The brisk rendition of "You Don't Know What Love Is," the brisk, angular setting of "Yesterdays" and the refreshingly unsentimental take of "Angel Eyes" are among the highlights, but simply put, all of the music is rewarding.
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