Don Braden – Tenor saxophone and flutes
Dave Stryker – Guitar
Kyle Koehler – Hammond B3
Cecil Brooks III – Drums
Sherman Irby – Alto saxophone
Claudio Roditi – Trumpet
Suave and urbane saxophonist Don Braden delves into sensual soul-jazz for the third time on the captivating Luminosity. This charming and accessible album brims with the same spontaneous vibrancy and pleasant lyricism that marked its predecessors, the energetic The New Hang (High Note, 2004) and the spirited Workin’ (High Note, 2006).
Braden’s former sidemen, drummer Cecil Brooks III, organist Kyle Koehler and first-time collaborator guitarist Dave Stryker, make up the Organix Quartet. Stryker, who honed his skills with such stalwarts of the genre as organist Jack McDuff and saxophonist Stanley Turrentine, is superbly suited for this project.
Stryker peppers his sophisticated and erudite solo with hints of rock ‘n’ roll on the funk-infused “Jive Turkey.” Braden takes center stage with big-toned honking lines filled with bravado, often channeling the extroverted style of 1950s tenorists like Big Jay McNeely. Koehler’s slow simmer and subtle swagger form the dynamic framework for the tune that Brooks propels with his percolating beats.
On some of the more effervescent pieces, guest musicians like trumpeter Claudio Roditi and altoist Sherman Irby, engage Braden in alluring and clever conversations. On “I Could Write a Book,” Roditi and Braden interweave their individual improvisations as they intriguingly embellish the standard with Latin motifs. Irby’s mellow blues-drenched horn elegantly complements Braden’s lithe and muscular tenor on pianist Herbie Hancock’s “Driftin.” The restless, full-bodied, earthy groove of the rhythm trio buoys these absorbing dialogues.
The finest of many exquisite moments on this splendid album is Braden’s unaccompanied and ethereal performance of pianist Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge.” Braden’s haunting and elegiac phrases undulate with a mix of refined class and ardent passion around the shimmering melody. As a result, this superb interpretation is modern, refreshing, as well as charismatic and filled with nostalgia.
Infrequently, alas, there are spots of creative lethargy. The “popish” ballad “The Time We Shared” lilts and flirts precariously with smooth jazz. The excellence of the collective musicianship, however, manages to rescue it from the mundane.
Despite a rare lapse in the momentum, Luminosity is an inventive and satisfying expression of mainstream music. It is yet another enjoyable installment in Braden’s uniformly delightful oeuvre.