Wayne Escoffery

Uptown

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London, England-born saxophonist Wayne Escoffery's fifth album is a soulful, groove-heavy outing that positions him firmly within the tradition of hard bop blowing but also makes a case for him as a better-than-decent composer. There's a Wayne Shorter-esque feel to melodies like the opening "No Desert" and the questing "Maya's Waltz," while the minute-long organ interlude, "Road from Eilat" and the track it leads into, "Gulf of Aqaba," add a psychedelic, spiritual edge reminiscent of Larry Young's mid-'60s Blue Note albums. At the same time, the smooth funk of "Nu Soul" and his swinging take on Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad" (driven by powerful drumming from Jason Brown) are aimed straight at what remains of jazz radio. Indeed, all the players in this small group deliver, organist Gary Versace and guitarist Avi Rothbard taking solos that serve the group sound without hijacking the tracks. This is one of those albums that doesn't necessarily move jazz forward, but is nonetheless very pleasurable on its own modest merits. And isn't that more than enough?

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